NEW YORK -- For decades, Ray Guy was considered the best punter in pro football. Now, the Hall of Fame made it official.
Guy, who failed to reach Canton in seven previous tries, on Saturday became the first punter and only the second specialist in the Hall's history. Joining him in the Class of 2014 were linebacker Derrick Brooks, offensive tackle Walter Jones, defensive ends Michael Strahan and Claude Humphrey, cornerback Aeneas Williams and wide receiver Andre Reed.
"I haven't really soaked it in yet," Guy said. "Good things are worth waiting for. It's just a matter of time of when it would show up. I knew it would sooner or later. It had to.
"I go back to my high-school days and my college days when I played football. I was a quarterback in high school and a safety in college, so when I got to the Raiders and became strictly a punter, I knew the importance of that position and what it could do for you one time or two times during the course of a game -- (basically,) how important that one play was.
"So now that I've filled this, what I think is going to happen is that it's going to give the younger generation -- the punters, the place-kickers and snappers -- hope that there is a place for us. Now it's more recognized, and it should be. "
Unlike Guy, the trio of Brooks, Jones and Strahan were expected to be named, with Brooks and Jones first-ballot inductees and Strahan reaching Canton in his second attempt. But Reed and Williams were going to be close calls, with both oh-so-near finalists in recent years. Guy and Humphrey -- presented by the Hall's seniors' committee -- were so uncertain it took more than 40 minutes to discuss each in a closed-door session that lasted a record nine hours.
If there was a problem with them, it was this: Together, they failed to make it in 11 previous tries, with Humphrey passed over once as a seniors candidate. But the Hall's seniors committee, which meets every summer to sort out the best two nominees who have been out of the game 25 years or more, brought him back -- along with Guy -- because it believed both were the best choices.
The move was a risky one, but it paid off. Both reached Canton on what were surely their last tries.
"I never really gave up hope," Humphrey said. "I always figured there was a place for me. It's been a long time and a lot of disappointments after being nominated so many times. But getting to the finals and getting in is such a great experience for me that ... I tell you what, it's hard to explain."
Guy's choice wasn't. He was named to the league's 75th Anniversary team but was one of only two members of that club (punt returner Billy "White Shoes" Johnson was the other) not in the Hall. With the nation's best collegiate punters annually given the Ray Guy award, his name was synonymous with excellence at a position where he was as much a weapon as a kicker -- with Guy a critical factor in determining field position with punts that sometimes hung six seconds in the air.
For that reason, he was considered a pioneer, but until Saturday he never was considered Hall of Fame worthy.
"Do you consider yourself a groundbreaker, especially now that you're the first punter in the Hall?" he was asked after his selection was announced.
"I never even thought about that," Guy said, "until I started to hear that later on down that road. But if that's something that occurred, and I'm part of it, I'm very proud to be a part of it."
Brooks and Jones were no-brainers, with both viewed as the best first-time candidates. Brooks was a 11-time Pro Bowler, former Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion. Jones was considered one of the best left tackles in NFL history, named to a franchise-record nine Pro Bowls before his career ended after the 2008 season. Jones becomes only the third Seattle player to reach the Hall of Fame, and he did it with the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
"It's been a long journey for me to be at this point," Jones said. "All I wanted to do was to say, 'I can play in this game.' So, for me to be here now, and for my team that I started and finished with to be in the Super Bowl is just icing on the cake."
Strahan makes the Hall one year after he barely missed and less than a week after he was called out by 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Warren Sapp. It was Sapp who chose Super Bowl week to insult Strahan, saying, "He only has four straight Pro Bowls and a mythical sack record. When you really measure him up, he comes up short."
That provoked Strahan to respond, with the league's season sack record-holder saying, "The tiger does not pay attention to the opinion of the sheep," and the Hall of Fame's 46-member board of selectors agreed.
His induction is appropriate, with Super Bowl XLVIII played in the Giants' home stadium. The local hero's selection was greeted by the loudest roar from a packed Radio City Music Hall audience, and Strahan seemed genuinely pleased as he waved to the crowd.
Reed, who made the cut to 10 the previous four years, received 80 percent of the votes one year after Cris Carter broke a gridlock at wide receiver. For years, Carter, Reed and Tim Brown stood in a queue waiting to reach Canton, with the three canceling each other out. The fear had been that nothing would change until or unless someone broke loose, and that someone was Carter in 2013. Now, Reed follows, making it on his eighth try as a finalist, and not a moment too soon.
Bruce and Torry Holt are among next year's candidates, and it won't be long before Randy Moss and Terrell Owens get in line.
"The Hall of Fame is such a prestigious institution," Reed said. "Yes, I've waited, and my Dad always told me that patience is a virtue and that good things come to those who wait. I was part of some great teams with great players. To see Bruce (Smith) and Thurman (Thomas) here -- guys I went to war with every single Sunday and guys who are immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- next to my kids being born, there's nothing better than that ."
Williams, who starred for Arizona and St. Louis, was expected to compete for one of the final two spots after Strahan, Jones and Brooks, but he had plenty of competition with Reed, guard Will Shields, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, pass rusher Charles Haley and coach Tony Dungy. Nevertheless, he made it on his third time as a finalist, and with good reason: Until Saturday, he was the only cornerback of the All-Decade Team of the 1990s to be excluded from the Hall.
Rod Woodson, Darrell Green and Deion Sanders preceded him to Canton, though Williams had more interceptions than Green and Sanders, and only Woodson had more Pro Bowl appearances. No one Saturday, however, seemed more gratified than the likable cornerback, who scored nine times with 55 interceptions and still holds a playoff record with interceptions in four straight postseason games.
"When my wife and I got the call, there were tears of joy," a beaming Williams said. "Thank you God for this opportunity."