There is no NFL player in recent memory who knows how to take up for a cause he believes in than Chris Kluwe. Last season he made Ray Guy his cause. Last December the entire NFL had mandatory patches to celebrate the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 50th anniversary on their jerseys. Kluwe took the opportunity to send a message.
The outspoken punter put a post-it note over his patch that read "Vote Ray Guy" on it. That message was received. Well, at least by the NFL, as they slapped him with a $5,250 fine for the little stunt.
It's hard to say if that message was received by the Hall of Fame voters who have kept Guy out for the past 23 years of eligibility, but the senior committee clearly isn't of the same mind. They just elected Guy as one of two players eligible for the 2014 Hall of Fame class.
Kluwe's stunt may or may not have had any kind of direct effect on Guy finally having a real shot at breaking through, but it is exciting just the same. Exciting for Guy, Kluwe, the Raiders, and specialists across the NFL and throughout its history. One would imagine Raiders former All Pro punter, Shane Lechler, is pretty excited too.
Guy's being a Hall of Fame afterthought for so long despite being the standard by which all punters since have strived to emulate indicates a much larger problem with the induction process in Kluwe's eyes.
"As specialists we aren't on the field as much other people so there's not as much incentive to learn about what we do," says Kluwe. "It takes a very specialist type mind to want to know about punting and kicking so the average person just doesn't see that. But we do go out there and we do affect games. We have players who are the very best in their position. And that's the whole thing about sport. If you say a sport is a team game, well you need to recognize every player on the team and punters and kickers are part of the team as well."
"Let's change the process to make it so we don't lump everyone in together. We don't compare quarterbacks to defensive ends. They're two completely different things. So, why would you compare punter to receiver or to linebackers? I mean, it doesn't make sense. The NFL is such a specialized game these days. It's very rare to see anyone play more than one position. You hardly ever see that and so why do we insist on comparing people against other people who aren't doing the same thing?"
There are excellent points here that crop up each year around Hall of Fame selection time and it involves every position, not just the specialists.
Keeping deserving players out for another year because there are more worthy eligible players in a given year is a big one. If a player is deserving, he should be in. Should a player have to ‘wait ‘til next year' because he is facing first ballot guys who are thought more deserving at that moment?
Having the same selection committee with the same bias toward the same players is also a big one. How a player like Ray Guy is ever supposed to get in - outside of waiting until he is eligible to be enshrined by the senior committee - is beyond me. The same voters hold his position against him just like they hold grudges and prejudice against other players for other reasons.
Raiders fan understand this concept better than probably anyone in sports. The list of legendary Raiders who can't break into even the finalists for whatever reason is a long one. Super Bowl winning signal caller, Ken Stabler, wasn't even on the ballot last year. Cliff Branch retired as a 3-time Super Bowl winner and all-time leader in playoff receiving yards. Jack Tatum can't get a sniff - likely because of the Darryl Stingley hit - even though Hall of Fame players Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott have both said they model their games off Tatum. Lester Hayes is vilified for his use of stick-em.
The list goes on and it is certainly not limited to Raider greats. It's a severely flawed system of induction. Ray Guy's induction will help things and it may even open the door for other specialists to get in. Hopefully they won't have to wait nearly a quarter century to get the call.