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THE AFC WEST: AN OLD PUNTER AND A NEW LEADER : Coming Down From Heights, Raiders' Guy Ponders Future

November 06, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Remember the days when opponents got dizzy under Ray Guy's punts?

When he hit the ceiling TV screen in the New Orleans Superdome?

When the Houston Oilers stole one of his footballs and sent it to Rice University to see if there was helium inside? It may have been the first time a football had to take a test for foreign substances.

Ray Guy remembers.

"The older I get, I wish they would let you put something in them," he said the other day, laughing.

He's a month away from turning 37, and the punt he knocked out of bounds at the five-yard line in Houston was the 1,000th of his career, a total matched by only three others.

Now, though, along with all the honors, comes the occasional horror. The week before, he put one up into a stiff wind in Miami that stopped about seven yards past the line of scrimmage. It landed, kicked backward and hopped right into the hands of Guy, himself, forcing him into the indignity of downing his own punt. Apparently, the first 1,000 are the toughest.

Last Sunday's Denver game was his 200th straight as a Raider, fourth best in team history and 10 behind Jim Otto's record. In No. 196 at Kansas City, he fumbled not one perfect center snap but two of them, an incredible double lapse for this most athletic of punters. The first led to an easy touchdown by the Chiefs. He recovered the second and managed to get the punt away.

Guy opened this season in a slump, which is not a good thing to have when you're 36. He has gradually worked his net average, first in the AFC last season, back to the middle of the pack, but not without suffering predictable consequences.

For one thing, the number of free-agent punters coming through El Segundo on the weekly Tuesday tryout day drew more than usual interest. The Raiders, of course, said they'd always tried them out, just in case.

Four were said to have come in on one day.

"What they were doing that particular day, the guy in San Diego (Charger punter Ralf Mojsiejenko, whom the Raiders were about to face) is left-footed and a left-footed kicker has just the opposite spin on the ball. They wanted to give Fulton Walker a lot of work."

All four punters were left-footed?

"That's what they told me," said Guy, laughing.

When punters turn up in Raider camps, the first thing they often do is tell Guy how long they've idolized him. Why not? This was the first punter ever chosen in the first round of the NFL draft, from tiny Southern Mississippi. He was a baseball pitcher and drafted in that sport, too, by the Cincinnati Reds. As a college safety, he intercepted 18 passes.

"He wanted to play some defense for us his first year," Raider executive Al LoCasale said. "Al (Davis) watched him punt and said, 'I'll kill the first man who lets him on the field.' "

Thus denied, Guy settled for becoming the emergency quarterback, where his strong arm made him handy for practice and other things.

"I used to make some money when he was young," LoCasale said. "He'd put his foot on the 50 and without taking a step, just with hip rotation, he (passed) the ball in(to) the end zone. At one time, he could throw the ball 80 yards.

"One year, I think it was 1981, during that streak in which we were shut out three games in a row, we were playing Detroit in Detroit. It was the last play in the half, and we had the ball at our own 45. The idea was to throw it into the end zone. The only guy we had who could reach it was Guy. We put him in and he got sacked."

Guy's other career, punting, held up better. If he has lost some of the sheer, exhilarating power, he has retained enough of it and learned enough accuracy to minimize returns. A year ago, he kicked 32 punts out of bounds inside the opponents' 20. Of his 89 punts, 26 were returned.

"I haven't really changed much," he said. "The return teams have gotten so sophisticated. You kinda play a guessing game with them. I don't kick the ball down the middle of the field anymore.

"The first three games of this season, I didn't have good games at all. I know the coaches were wondering what in the world was going on. It's a rhythm thing. Once that rhythm is broken, sometimes you start trying to get that little extra burst."

As a high-school senior, back when the sky was the limit and some of his punts came close, Guy signed a letter of intent to play for Georgia. He took one look at the Athens campus and went home to Southern Mississippi. He still goes home in the off-season to Hattiesburg.

"L.A.'s just not my type of town," he said. "I'm just a country boy. And the country is a long way from here."

How long does he plan to commute?

"This is my 14th year," he said. "Next year will be 15 and that's the last one on my contract. That's a lot, even for a kicker."

Before he goes, Guy (who has punted for 42,778 yards), has a chance to break Jerrel Wilson's NFL record of 46,139.

Raider Notes Coach Tom Flores said that defensive end Howie Long's strained right hamstring is much better but that Long won't work much this week in the hope he'll be ready Sunday in Dallas. . . . Flores on cornerback Mike Haynes, who has a sore left ankle: "It's kind of a mystery to us why it isn't getting better quicker."

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