By CHRIS GAY / Augusta Chronicle
AUGUSTA, Ga. – His hero stood there by the team bus, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots.
A punter at Eastern Kentucky University, Rick Sang made the two-hour trek to Cincinnati to see Ray Guy and his Oakland Raiders play in a 1978 Monday night game against the Bengals. Sang specifically wanted to see Guy, who didn’t disappoint on the field or afterward.
“Right when I got into the stadium,” Sang said, “he was standing in the end zone and he boomed one punt right past midfield.”
After the contest, Sang worked his way to the team bus. He asked Guy to autograph a practice schedule, and he walked away with the signature he wanted most.
That first meeting was a precursor to the pair’s friendship, which led to a new career for Guy following his illustrious 14-year career with the Raiders. After three Super Bowl wins and seven Pro Bowl selections, Guy finally succumbed to a bad back, retiring after the 1986 season.
After the death of his father, B.F. Guy, in 1990, he returned from Hattiesburg, Miss., to Thomson. Guy worked as a salesman for Aflac and Hoover Treated Wood Products. Sang then sold Guy on an idea.
In the early ’90s, Sang worked at Eastern Kentucky and ran kicking and punting camps. He had crossed paths with Guy on the punting circuit long after his getting his autograph. Sang came up with the idea of a Ray Guy instructional video. Though he didn’t have a phone number for Guy, Sang believed the concept was so good he drove to Thomson.
Sang walked into a Chevrolet dealership, said he knew Guy and was trying to track him down. A worker there soon got Guy on the phone. The conversation was brief, but Sang got what he wanted: Guy’s approval for the video.
“He said he remembered me,” Sang said, “but I don’t think he did.”
Soon after, Guy met up with Sang and spent two days filming the video at the University of Kentucky’s indoor facility. While there, the two men ate supper at an Italian restaurant. When Sang was finished, Guy grabbed Sang’s tray and his plate and tossed his trash. That small act of kindness came naturally to the country boy from Georgia.
Years later, Guy called to offer his condolences after Sang’s mother died. Guy then told his friend he was on his way to Ashland, Ky., where he served as a pallbearer at the funeral.
“He said, ‘I’m coming up there for you,’ ” Sang said. “Right there, it just showed me what he’s made of.”
Their friendship took off after Guy inquired about Sang’s kicking camps. They struck a deal to start holding camps together, with Sang providing the organization and Guy providing the instruction as well as the gravitas as arguably the greatest punter ever.
They held the first Ray Guy Prokicker.com kicking camp in 1995 in Redlands, Calif., with 30 children in attendance. The following year, Guy and Sang added another camp in Sacramento.
“Once he saw what we did he became a big believer in it. He became like a kid,” Sang said. “He still demonstrated punting. He could still hit that 5-second hang time. I know that because we clocked him.”
At the conclusion of the first camps, Guy would start picking up equipment and putting it in the trailer. Sang put a quick end to that, telling Guy he was the star attraction.
Despite his popularity, Guy remained humble. When the pair traveled across country, Guy drove the truck with the attached trailer carrying his name.
“People would see the name on the trailer and they would flag us down,” Sang said. “I didn’t realize the power of having his name on the trailer.”
The number of camps spiked to 35 throughout the country in 2000. That same year, the inaugural Ray Guy Award was handed out to the top collegiate punter in the U.S.
“He reinvented his name in the marketplace with the camps,” Sang said. “His name is synonymous with punting. The camps have kept his name alive with punting.”
While the camps continued to grow, so did Guy’s frustration with not getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seven times he was named a finalist. Seven times he was rejected. It got to the point Sang wouldn’t bring up the subject.
To make matters worse, Guy filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and was ordered by a judge to sell his three Super Bowl rings. At an auction, the rings brought in more than $96,000.
“I don’t walk to talk about it,” Guy said at the time. “Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
While he may not have his rings, he’ll soon have something better. After being announced in February as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014, Guy secured his legacy. Tonight, he and six other enshrinees in this year’s class will receive their gold jackets at a Hall of Fame banquet in Canton, Ohio. At a Saturday evening ceremony, he’ll be immortalized, becoming the first full-time punter inducted into the hall.
“It’s been a long road, it’s been a long journey,” Guy said. “It’s hard to explain the weight that’s been thrown to the ground.”
After the February announcement, Guy’s been busy with NFL and Hall of Fame engagements. He said his employer, the University of Southern Mississippi, has been flexible with his schedule. Since 2007, he’s worked as the school’s Director of the M-Club Alumni Association and Community Relations. With his full-time gig, the 64-year-old Guy doesn’t see Sang much these days. Guy participates in a handful of the 40-45 camps a year. But no matter how much he’s able to help, he’s already made an impact on the NFL.
Seven-time Pro Bowler Shane Lechler of Houston trained with Guy. San Francisco’s Andy Lee led the league in punting average in 2011, while Miami’s Brandon Fields led the NFL in punting average in 2012. Lee and Fields are also Guy disciples.
“The greatest punters in football today trained with Ray,” Sang said. “They all came to his camp and they all learned from him.”
Sang said he’s learned plenty from Guy through the years as well. And 36 years later, Sang still has that piece of memorabilia, the autograph from the Monday night game from the punter wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots after the game. Even better, he has a friend.
“Sometimes you get around people and they disappoint you. Not Ray,” Sang said. “He’s so humble, probably too humble.”