Guy, punter and much, much more, had no peer

by Rick Cleveland
Jackson Clarion-Ledger
July 4, 2004

People ask me all the time: Who's the best athlete you ever covered?

They know I covered Payton, Rice, McNair, Favre, the Mannings and more.

My answer often surprises: Ray Guy, no doubt about it.

"A punter?" they say.

Guy, the best punter ever, was so much more than that.

Yes, I saw him launch a 93-yard punt that traveled 115 yards. But I also saw him kick a 61-yard field goal in a snowstorm. I saw him, playing safety, hit an opponent so hard they had to stop the game to pick the guy's teeth out of the grass. (He still shares the Southern Miss career record for pass interceptions.)

I saw him throw a football 80 yards.

I saw him throw fastballs as fast as Nolan Ryan ever threw. I saw him pitch a no-hitter six weeks after knee surgery. I saw him, with a wood bat, hit the longest home run I've ever seen hit in college baseball. I saw him throw a softball 340 feet in an intramural track meet. Think about it.

I saw him drive the green on the 375-yard, par-4 first hole at the Hattiesburg Country Club when rain had soaked the course.

I saw him beat the Chinese guys at ping pong, too.

I saw him hit the Superdome gondola with a punt in the Pro Bowl. The gondola, which hung over the field, was supposed to be out of play, but Guy's kick hit it on the way up. He said he did it just for kicks.

Could do anything

Guy will be inducted into the national High School Sports Hall of Fame Monday in San Diego. Paul Leroy, his football coach at Thomson (Ga.) High School, will tell you it should have happened a long time ago.

You hear coaches all the time say something like, "If I coach another 40 years, I'll never have another one like him."

Leroy takes it a step further, "I don't think anybody will ever coach another one like Ray Guy."

In Guy's two seasons as Thomson's varsity quarterback, the team never lost. He was the team's best defensive player, too. He averaged 52 yards a punt at least partly because, said Leroy, "he kicked them so high, nobody could catch 'em."

Leroy has a thousand Ray Guy stories. What follow are three in Leroy's words:

  • "Ray played baseball, so we couldn't use him much in track. But his junior year, the region meet didn't interfere with baseball, so we took him out one afternoon and let him try the discus.

    "He threw it further than anybody, so we took him to the meet and he won it. On the way to that same meet, we taught him the steps to the triple jump in the aisle of the bus. He won that, too."

  • "His junior year in the baseball playoffs, we went down to play Americus, where they had a pitcher named Chan Galey, who's now the football coach at Georgia Tech. It was Ray against Chan and neither team could score. We played 12 scoreless innings, before they took Chan out. Ray stayed in for 15 innings. We won 1-0 in the 15th.

    "That was on Friday night. Game Two of the best-of-three series was on Tuesday night. We looked over at their dugout and Chan Galey's arm was in a sling. Ray, of course, pitched a shutout for us that night."

  • "Ray was our starting quarterback as a junior and senior and we were undefeated and won the state championship both years. His junior year, in the state championship game, he blocked an extra point kick that won the championship 7 to 6 for us. Problem was, he broke his thumb blocking the kick and missed the entire basketball season, and he was our best basketball player, too.

    "Well, the next year, the night after he quarterbacked and played safety in the state championship football game, Thomson opened the basketball season against a team that had already won six games. Remember, Ray hadn't played in a game since his sophomore year. Well, Ray scored 39 points, blocked about every shot and Thomson won."

Bryant wanted kicker only

Guy had more than raw ability as a teen, Leroy said.

"He was always the first one on the field, the last one off it," Leroy said.

It wasn't so much that Guy loved to work.

Says Leroy, "He just loved to play. Anything with a ball."

Southern Miss assistants Hamp Cook and Doug Barfield recruited Guy away from Bear Bryant and Alabama, Leroy says.

"Bear Bryant told Ray he would only be a kicking specialist there, that his kicking was a weapon too valuable to risk elsewhere," Leroy said.

USM promised he would play either quarterback and/or safety.

Said Cook, chuckling, "Our claim to fame with Ray is that he was as good when he left as he was when we got him. We didn't screw him up."


Photo Courtesy: Ray Guy's Official Site