EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Much of the buzz around New York Giants camp has been about the impending enshrinement of Michael Strahan in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. But while he has plenty of love and respect for that great former Giant, punter Steve Weatherford is also enjoying the fact that former Raiders punter Ray Guy is going into the Hall of Fame this weekend. Guy will be the first punter ever enshrined.
"Being a punter, it may sound silly for me to say it, but I think it's about time," Weatherford said before Giants practice Thursday. "He's the best player at his position ever. He deserves it."
Weatherford was a soccer player who took up punting at age 15, and he said Guy was the name everyone knew when it came to punting. So it's not just that a punter is going into the Hall of Fame; it's that it's this particular one.
"He's the guy that everybody thinks of," Weatherford said. "He was the person that made people start to care about that position and think it was more than just a body on the team. Really revolutionized the position, and you can't say enough good things about not only what he was able to do for his franchise, and all the Pro Bowls and records, but really for the position itself."
Weatherford enjoys being a punter at a time when the fans and the game place unprecedented value on the position. He said he encounters Giants fans who still commend him for the brilliant game he had against the 49ers in the NFC championship game three seasons ago and the performance he delivered in the Super Bowl against the Patriots two weeks later. He believes Giants fans have special reason to appreciate the importance of his position.
"Just Jeff Feagles," Weatherford said, invoking the name of one of his close predecessors here. "He wasn't out there hitting 65-yard punts, but he was so good at keeping the ball away from the returner and just a really, rock-solid, steady punter. And this is a really difficult place to punt -- very windy, can get nasty, can get cold. And he just did a great job for an incredibly long time.
"I think he's one of the greats, and they don't really appreciate him until we brought a rookie in here and it really went to show you how difficult a place this is to play. Not only the conditions, but this place, if you don't play well, the fans will eat you up."
The reference there is of course to poor Matt Dodge, the rookie famous for kicking the ball to DeSean Jackson at the tail end of the Eagles' miracle comeback over the Giants in December 2010. Dodge lost his job to Weatherford in training camp the following season, and after the Super Bowl victory, the Giants rewarded Weatherford with a five-year, $12.5 million contract, of which about $4 million was guaranteed.
"You've got punters in the NFL now that are making $4 million a year and you've got some running backs on your team that are making less than $1 million," Weatherford said. "That just goes to show you, when you do find a really good punter, you've got to hang onto him. Because you never appreciate the punter until you don't have one that you can trust and depend on."
It's a good time to be a punter in the NFL, and for that reason Weatherford and his brethren will salute Ray Guy when he gets that gold jacket.