On the Steelers: No matter what fans say, not every Guy deserving of Canton
The Pro Football Hall of Fame decided to hold a fans' vote this year. You can vote for any of the nominated players at a Web site, and what a group you can vote for this season.
There are first-time eligible candidates such as Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, considered shoo-ins to make it on their first try. Who would not vote for these two men? Smith is the leading rusher in NFL history, Rice the leading receiver.
Yet neither of those two lead fan voting. Nor does Kevin Greene, who has more sacks than any linebacker since that statistic became official.
No, the man who leads the Fan's Choice is a punter, Ray Guy.
A guy who trotted onto the field and swung his leg six or seven times a game and rarely came into contact with anything more than a football is the player the fans think most belongs in the Hall of Fame.
It's a good thing the fan vote does not count. Unlike fan votes for all-star teams, thankfully they will not determine who makes up the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010. You would not know that, however, if you've seen the way the Hall's Web site ballyhoos what it calls the Fan's Choice (oh, that it were only one fan). It trumpets its new promotion at the top of its site, and ads, commercials and commentators make it sound as if these fan votes truly do count. According to the Hall's Web site, "The Fan's Choice Program is being touted in New York City's Times Square with a giant 90x120 foot billboard." Wow.
Pandering to fans is a long-held American sports tradition, but this one goes too far. Yet perhaps it is a good thing because it exposes the vote for what it is. It is obvious there is ballot-stuffing done by Raiders fans. I have little doubt that supporters for Ray Guy and other Raiders have gotten out the vote (they might call it the Guy's vote rather than the Fan's). Maybe 40 of them have voted 1,000 times each to put him at the top with nearly 40,000 votes. Seven of the top nine in the balloting played or coached most of their careers with the Raiders -- Guy, Tim Brown, Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes, coach Tom Flores, Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen. Rice, who is No. 3 in the voting, played four seasons with the Raiders.
Ever hear of Otho Davis? Me neither. He was a trainer for the Colts and Eagles. He is No. 13 in the fan voting.
Dermontti Dawson is nowhere among the fans' top 25. Maybe Steelers fans should get to work, although it is work for nothing because their vote means nothing (maybe Steelers fans famous for stuffing those fan ballots for NFL players of the week know this and do not want to waste their time).
Dawson, one of the greatest centers in NFL history, made the list of 15 semifinalists for last year's class. As one of 25 semifinalists in the real vote that counts this year, he awaits the results of voting to see if he reaches the finals again.
As one of 44 voters who count for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I voted for Dawson. I did not vote for Ray Guy. Many of my colleagues have because Guy has made it to the finals before, but I will wager none of those voters, not even the one from Oakland, had him first on their ballot.
I will never vote for a punter, not unless another Sammy Baugh came along; a guy who not only was among the game's great quarterbacks but its greatest punter, averaging more than 50 yards a punt.
Guy averaged 42.4 over his career and there was no such thing as the dead ball era when he played (1973-86). Daniel Sepulveda averages 43.7 yards per punt for the Steelers this season. There are 24 punters in the NFL today who have a better average this season than Guy did for his career. If I were going to vote for a Raiders' punter for the Hall of Fame it would be Shane Lechler, who averages 51.4 yards this season.
Guy was said to have great hang time. OK, that makes me want to vote for him. I do not know what kind of hold he has on Raiders Nation nor on my colleagues who keep voting for him. I even heard one national radio host declare that it is "embarrassing" that Ray Guy is not in the Hall of Fame. I would like to ask this former NFL defensive lineman which of five real players he would like to keep out of the Hall this year in order to put Guy in. A maximum of five modern candidates can be elected.
When it comes to voting for Ray Guy, ever, I will have to punt.
Ryan Clark made one mistake in his comments Wednesday in the Steelers locker room. Hey, take on the media, we're used to it, some even enjoy it.
What Clark should have known is you can never take on the fans. Not unless they threaten you or your family, throw something at you or perform some other illegal act. Then, call the cops and let them take care of it.
Clark did not really criticize fans directly, but he implied it. "The people on the outside don't understand the frustration you go through. They don't understand the work you put into it every day."
Fans work too. Like Ryan Clark, they support families. Many moms and dads work, some with two jobs, to put their children through college. The last thing they want to hear from a football player who makes millions is that they do not understand how hard he works.
But Ryan Clark has been a model of graciousness and courage during his time with the Steelers and like many, writers too, they receive vicious e-mails, hate mail that call them names and go far beyond good taste. Clark obviously sounded off in his frustration over that, combined with the five-game losing streak. He deserves a break for his one time letting off steam.
First Published December 20, 2009 12:00 am