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Ray Guy, Hall of Fame punter with Raiders, dies at age of 72

Ray Guy, the greatest punter in the history of professional football, died Thursday following a lengthy illness, his alma mater, Southern Mississippi, announced. He was 72.

In 1973, Guy became the first punter selected in the first round of the NFL draft in the league's history, launching a legendary career that would see him enshrined as the first pure punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. The punter earned three first-team All-Pro selections and seven trips to the Pro Bowl during his 14-year career spent exclusively with the Raiders, appearing in every game (207 total) and reaching three Super Bowls (XI, XV, XVIII).

Guy established himself as the game's top punter, leading the NFL in gross punt average in three separate seasons and holding the Raiders record for most career punts (1,049). Guy had just three punts blocked in his career and ended his career with a streak of 619 consecutive punts without a block.

Along the way, he dropped 210 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, a total that doesn't include his first three seasons due to the NFL not keeping track of the statistic until 1976. Legendary Raiders head coach John Madden once referred to Guy as "the best that ever played that position," a conclusion he reached only after overcoming initial surprise that his team would spend a top pick on the position.

"The first time I laid eyes on him is when we first brought him to practice. And he started to punt, and he punted the longest, highest footballs that I had ever seen," Madden said during his presentation of Guy for enshrinement in 2014. "And I said, 'OK, that's enough.' You know, I didn't want to tire his leg out or have him get injured. And he said 'coach, I'm just warming up.' And I thought 'holy moly, just warming up?' And I knew right then, at that moment, that he was going to be special."

Guy's special brand of punting popularized the focus on "hang time" -- the amount of time a punt traveled through the air -- and led to his inclusion as part of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Guy also earned a place on the 1970s All-Decade Team, the All-Time NFL Team and the AFL-NFL 1960-1984 All-Star Team. The annual award for college football's top punter, the Ray Guy Award, is named after the venerated special teams ace.

Guy was more than a punter, of course. While at Southern Miss, Guy also played defensive back, and still holds the school's single-season record for most interceptions (eight), set in 1972. He also maintains the longest punting average in school history at 44.7 yards, and once held the record for longest field goal made (61 yards) in college football history.

"Ray was a warm, humble Southern gentleman who represented the game, the Raiders organization and the Hall of Fame with dignity and class at all times," Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. "A truly gifted athlete, he could have been a star in Major League Baseball or pro basketball. Fans of the NFL thank Ray for choosing to focus on football."

In all, as Madden said, Guy was "a football player that punted." He broke through as the first punter to end up in Canton, and he'll always be remembered for his special talents that shaped the modern game.

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