CANTON, Ohio — In May, three months after Ray Guy was chosen as the first pure punter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bryan Barker and Greg Coleman, two fellow punters, decided they had to do something to commemorate the moment.
So they reached out to every punter they knew, encouraging them to go to Canton to cheer on Guy, 64, when he entered. The result: 18 punters whose careers spanned nearly five decades.
Over chicken wings and beer, the punters swapped stories and compared notes on hang times and coffin corners.
"He put us on the map," Coleman, 59, a former Florida A&M standout, said of Guy, the first punter to be selected in the first round of the draft. "There weren't too many punters who had a five-second hang time in the league."
Punters and kickers have long felt underappreciated (Jan Stenerud remains the only placekicker in the Hall). They are sometimes the butt of jokes because of their slight builds, infrequent appearances on the field and lack of flash.
"It's been long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team," Guy said during his induction speech. "To know my legacy will be forever part of pro football history and that my bust will be alongside the greatest athletes of all time, it leaves this old punter speechless."
Jeff Feagles, who punted for 22 years, the last seven with the Giants, said the game is more sophisticated now, which makes punting more valuable. He said the best punters were not the ones who kicked the ball the farthest, but the most accurately. That skill, he said, has been undervalued.
"This is a rite of passage," he said. "The position needs to be represented. Guy's induction will open a lot of eyes."
New format: The Hall of Fame added a contributor category that in some years will increase the annual inductees to eight.
Contributors, who played a role in establishing and building the game, could include former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, former Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. All three have fallen just short of election in recent years.
Hall of Fame president David Baker said officials believe there is a need for the category to address a backlog of qualified candidates. He noted there are only 19 people who could be called contributors enshrined, and only nine were inducted over the past 49 years.
Previously, a maximum of five modern era players and two seniors could be inducted each year. Now, contributors will be voted upon separately. In 2015, 2017 and 2019, two can be enshrined. In 2016 and 2018, one can be enshrined. After 2019, the process will be reviewed.
Kelly active: Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly, who is battling cancer, attended to watch former Bills teammate Andre Reed be inducted. Kelly is two weeks from learning how radiation and chemotherapy treatments impacted the tumors in his head. On Friday, he attended the Ray Nitschke Luncheon, went to Cleveland with former Bills RB Thurman Thomas to sign autographs at a memorabilia show, then returned to Canton to see Reed get his gold jacket. On Saturday, he talked with the NFL Network. "It's good to be seen and not viewed," he said. Tonight, he will be an honorary captain for the preseason game between the Bills and Giants.
Missing her: Claude Humphrey, a two-time All-Pro defensive end who played for the Falcons and Eagles, retired after the 1981 season and waited 28 years to be elected. But his wife, Sandra, died 14 months ago.
"It's a bittersweet moment that at the twilight of it all that she's not here to celebrate with me," Humphrey said before the ceremony. "But I know that the Lord had a bigger plan for her, so he called her home. And I have to accept that."