The chances of Ray Guy becoming the first punter voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are looking good -- never better, in fact.

"You want to get excited, but you don't want to show it outside," Guy said this week from his office on the campus of Southern Mississippi. "I've been through it before, but it doesn't get any easier until you know for sure on Saturday."

Guy, 64, has been a finalist seven times previously. Retired since 1986, his resume obviously hasn't gotten better. So why have his chances?

This time, for the first time, Guy is being considered as a seniors candidate, a special designation for players who have been inactive for 25 years or more. He still will need 80 percent of the 46-member electorate (37 votes), but his status as a senior nominee makes it a simple yes-or-no vote.

** FILE ** Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy is shown in this this Jan. 25, 1981 file photo, kicking during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Guy is among 17
** FILE ** Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy is shown in this this Jan. 25, 1981 file photo, kicking during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Guy is among 17 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2007. (AP Photo)

In previous elections, Guy, who spent his entire 14-year NFL career with the Raiders, was part of a larger class and subjected to rules that limit the number of enshrinees. Under those conditions, John Madden wasn't able to garner 80 percent of the vote. (Madden went in as a "senior," as did other coaching greats Hank Stram and George Allen.)

Seven of the last eight senior candidates have been elected, and 38 of 51 overall since the designation was added in 1972. The odds are in Guy's favor.

"I like his chances," said Rick Gosselin, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and a member of the senior committee that nominated Guy.

Jim Trotter, a writer for Sports Illustrated and one of the 46 voters, said: "I feel this is the year Ray finally gets in. In the past he's fought the bias that some voters have against specialists, but as a senior his chances increase significantly because he would not take an available spot from a position player."

Guy's statistics, by modern standards, are pedestrian. His career average (42.4 yards per punt) ranks 89th all-time. His season-best 45.3 yards in 1973 ranks 168th.

But, playing for a strong offensive team, Guy usually wasn't punting from deep in his own territory, instead angling for the sideline to get better field position. From 1976-86, he put 210 punts inside the 20-yard line -- more than twice the number of any other punter.

"In terms of field position, he was tremendous," said Jan Stenerud, the former Kansas City Chiefs kicker and the only "specialist" in the Hall of Fame, "and no punter was as universally known as Ray."

Or, as put by Steve Tasker, the CBS analyst and former special teams ace for the Buffalo Bills: "You talk to most people who watch the NFL, the only punter they can name, other than their own punter, is Ray."

Guy was the first punter to be drafted in the first round, selected by Al Davis with the 23rd overall pick in 1973. The term "hang time" might have started with him. Guy said he had never heard those words until Madden used them to describe his booming kicks, which sometimes took more than five seconds to return to earth.

Once, after a game against the Raiders, Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips swiped a ball and sent it to Rice University to have it tested for helium.

Having been the NFL's first special teams coach in 1969, Dick Vermeil, who went on to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Chiefs, has a true appreciation for the importance of a punter.

"The general fan underestimates the value of field position," Vermeil said. "Why would you exclude a punter if he was the best in his position in the history of the NFL?"

Former Raiders coach Tom Flores considers Guy as worthy of Canton as any of the players on his two Super Bowl champion teams. Lost amid the highlights of the 38-9 victory over Washington in Super Bowl XVIII -- Marcus Allen's 74-yard run and Jack Squirek's interception -- was an early punt from Guy with his back to the end zone.

"The ball was snapped 10 feet high, Ray somehow goes up and gets it, and gets off a 42-yard punt," Flores said. "It could have changed the entire game. Nobody even talked about it."

By Saturday night, everybody could be talking about Guy. For him, it isn't about being a pioneer as much as it's about giving the Hall of Fame something it lacks.

"I'd love to be the first, but whether I am or not, it's time to fill every position on a football team," Guy said. "I've yet to see a great team that didn't have a great punter."