Saturday, August 2, 2008
A little love for The Snake - and Ray Guy, too
As I'm watching several great players, including Fred Dean, Darrell Green and Art Monk, being inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame this afternoon on ESPN, I can't help wondering: How come Ray Guy and Kenny Stabler aren't up there, too?
Granted, I'm prejudiced because I live in Oakland Raider territory, but these two are no-brainers.
Ray Guy was the best punter ever, period. He kicked 'em long, and he kicked 'em high - so high, in fact, that one time the other team took the ball to the sideline and had it tested for helium. (It was clean.)
At the 1976 Pro Bowl he became the first punter to hit the Louisiana Superdome video screen, forcing officials to raise the screen from 90 to 200 feet.
He not only had power, he had finesse. He was especially adept at landing the ball inside the 20, without it going into the end zone for a touchback. He did that 210 times, and that's not counting his first three seasons, before the NFL kept track of this statistic.
Perhaps his greatest punt went for only 27 yards. It was late in the first half of Super Bowl XVIII, when the Raiders stalled just outside of field goal range. Guy landed his punt on the Redskins' 12, pinning them deep in their territory for the rest of the half.
The bottom line: He punted 1,049 times, and not one was ever run back for a touchdown.
So why isn't he in the hall? Simple: No punter has ever been chosen. The selection committee has a prejudice against such "specialty" players.
But if field position is as important as coaches like Bill Parcells say it is, why shouldn't punters be in the hall? Field goal kickers are.
As Joe Horrigan, the historian of the Pro Football Hall of Fame said of Guy, "He's is the first punter you could look at and say, 'He won games.'"
That should earn him a ticket to Canton, in my book.
And the snub is just as outrageous for The Snake. He was Joe Montana before Joe Montana. Maybe his skills were at a slightly lower level, but only slightly.
He was the king of the last-minute comebacks. There was no other quarterback you wanted to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line and time running out.
He didn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he was deadly accurate. And, like Montana, he thrived under pressure. The bigger the game, the better he played.
I can see him now, standing almost motionless in the pocket, waiting, waiting, waiting for his receivers to get open and then, suddenly, Zap! Like a snake striking, he'd zip the ball to Cliff Branch, Dave Casper or Fred Biletnikoff for another last-second, game-winning TD.
And, like Montana, he had a knack for finding ways to win. Some of the most famous plays in football history are Stabler touchdowns.
Like the "Holy Roller" game at San Diego in 1978. Trailing by a touchdown with 10 seconds to go at the Chargers 24, he was about to be sacked. So he "fumbled" the ball forward, and it rolled and rolled until Casper finally fell on it in the end zone for the game winner.
Here's the call of the late, great Bill King: "There's nothing real in the world anymore! The Raiders have won the football game! Fifty-two thousand people, minus a few lonely Raider fans, are stunned! The Chargers are standing, looking at each other, looking at the sky. They don't believe it! Nobody believes it! I don't know if the Raiders believe it! It's not real! A man would be a fool to ever try and write a drama and make you believe it. And now, this one will be relived - forever! Bitterly here in San Diego, joyfully in Oakland. Final score: Oakland 21, San Diego 20!"
Then there was the "Ghost to the Post," a 42-yard beauty to Casper with less than a minute to go, setting up the game-tying field goal in the final seconds of a playoff game against the Colts in 1977, which the Raiders ultimately won in double overtime on another Stabler-to-Casper pass.
Before the play, everyone in the stadium was freaking out - including his own coach, John Madden, as the two of them were discussing which play to run. Stabler calmly looked at the frenzied crowd and drawled, "The fans are sure getting their money's worth today."
Or the "Sea of Hands" playoff game against Miami in 1974. With the seconds running out and Dolphin linebacker Vern Den Herder dragging him down by his legs, Stabler flipped the ball toward the left side of the front of the end zone, where running back Clarence Davis outfought a "sea of hands" of three Dolphin defenders to grab it for a 28-26 victory that knocked Miami out of the playoffs after they had won the last two Super Bowls.
Only The Snake would have dared such a pass. And only The Snake would have made it. He should have been in the hall long ago.