The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced their Class of 2014, and they left 49ers fans disappointed once again by the exclusion of former owner Eddie DeBartolo, and former defensive end/linebacker Charles Haley. This year's modern class features LB Derrick Brooks, OT Walter Jones, WR Andre Reed, DE Michael Strahan and CB Aeneas Williams. The senior class includes punter Ray Guy and DL Claude Humphrey. It features some incredibly talented players, but it's a shame there are limitations on the number of players allowed in a given class.
Although the five modern players are big names, I would argue the biggest news is the inclusion of punter Ray Guy. Raiders fans are particularly pleased, but fans of special teams play can get excited about this. Naturally that includes me, but I know there are others who enjoy watching high quality special teams play.
Guy is the first punter to gain entry into the Hall. He joins three kickers: George Blanda, Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud. Blanda finished playing in 1975, and was elected in 1981. Groza finished his career in 1967, and was elected in 1974. Stenerud finished his career in 1985, and was elected in 1991. Guy's career ended in 1986, and he was only just elected.
I don't know that Andy Lee ends up as a Hall of Fame punter, but getting that first punter in is key. I don't expect a sudden flood of punters, but now voters can't rest on the notion that punters just don't get in. For some basic comparisons, here is how Andy Lee stacks up to Ray Guy:
|Andy Lee||Ray Guy|
|First-Team All Pro||3||3|
|Outside Top 5 Y/P||3||4|
|Yards per punt||46.1||42.4|
Yards per punt doesn't tell us nearly enough and unfortunately I can't find net yards per punt for Ray Guy. The various yards/punt listings are how many times they ranked there. Lee still has some work to do if he wants to get into the discussion among the all-time greats. I think he is a great punter, but he needs to rack up some more Top 3 yards/punt type seasons. I am not concerned about him having fewer Pro Bowl nods, but he will need to do some work on the All Pro front to make up for areas he might otherwise be lacking.
The good news is the 49ers have him signed for another five seasons. If he can make it through those five years (or more based on how the contract is adjusted over time), he might need three or four more All Pro seasons to work his way into the Hall of Fame discussion. After all, Guy is the only punter at this point who has gained entry. If Andy Lee can get himself into position for some Hall discussion, he too might need to wait until he is a Senior induction. Who knows.
The good news though is the punter seal has been broken. A punter will make his way in to the hallowed halls of Canton later this summer, and elite NFL specialists the world over suddenly have a slightly better shot at entry into the Hall of Fame one day.
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