"Thank you Coach and thank you ladies and gentlemen. Man, am I glad to be here tonight. Believe me, it’s been a long and winding road from the farmlands of South Georgia to the hallowed halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’ve been bumps, there have been curves, detours and bridges to cross along this journey, but I have finally made it. Even though there will be no more games to play, records to set or championships to win, for to be a part of this very special clubhouse called the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and knowing it’s forever, is beyond my wildest dreams. But I didn’t do it alone. I’ve been very fortunate to be associated with great individuals who have influenced my life, some on the field of competition and others who just helped me learn life’s lessons. Believe me, I’d like to mention them all by name, but time simply won’t permit. I hope you’ll all forgive me for that.
However, several family members are here tonight that I must acknowledge, including my two wonderful children. My beautiful daughter Amber, my son Ryan and his family, my brother Al and his lovely wife Kate, but my older brother Larry could not make it. He so much wanted to be here this week, but he is suffering from cancer right now and my prayers are with him and I hope yours are too. But his daughter, my niece, Kim and her husband and two sons are here and I thank them. Many friends, including my high school coach, Raider coaches, my attorney and several Raider teammates are also here. There’s even a group of former old football punters that are here tonight and I’ll tell you I was elated this afternoon to be around them, sitting with them, and just talking with them about different things about punters in the NFL. I want to thank you all.
Unfortunately, there are two special friends who are no longer with us and that I’d like to salute tonight. One, my college coach, P.W. Underwood. Coach Underwood gave me an opportunity to get an education and play football and baseball at Southern Mississippi. And of course, the other is Raiders Hall of Fame Owner Al Davis, who took a chance on me as a pure punter in 1973. Al’s lovely wife, Ms. Carol and son Mark, are here. Ms. Carol and Mark and all my family and friends that are here tonight, I would like for you to please stand and be recognized. Everybody please.
The two greatest influences in my life are not seated here in front of me tonight and that’s my mom and my dad. Even though they’re not here, they are here. They are up above watching and cheering. And I know they’re looking down from above and smiling and beaming with pride and cheering me on as they always did during my playing days. You know, as I think back, I don’t know how my mom ever knew what was going on at a game because she never had her eyes open. She kept them closed and I figured out why dad would never sit with her because she kept beating on him and asking what was going on. As I look back on what I achieved in my life, I realize it all started growing up in a very warm, loving and caring family life. My parents only wanted what was the best for their three sons. We were taught to appreciate the things we had and to take care of what we got. We were taught to respect the family life and our fellow man. Life was simple back then and I cherished all the great times I had growing up in that wonderful atmosphere.
My dad was a discipline father with a firm hand and a man of few words. He didn’t often praise or brag about your accomplishments, but you always knew he was very, very proud of his sons. He taught by example how to be a man, to be the best at what you did, and be proud of what you accomplished, and to believe in yourself and use your common sense. Always be respectful and never shame the family name by doing wrong to others. Everybody, according to dad, was very equal. When you gave your word, you honored it. When you started something, you finished it; you saw it through. Quitting is easy, a way out, he would say. Staying and fighting and building character and success was hard. You built honor and trust when others know you’ll be beside them until the end. I’m very proud of my father and I’m still benefiting from things he taught me.
Since being selected into the Hall of Fame, I’ve looked back through my life wondering how and where this all started. Did I plan this journey? Was this supposed to happen? Analyzing everything I did from childhood to the present, I cannot pinpoint a place in time where I said, ‘Is this what I had to do? Did I want to play just one sport or do I want to have fun and play all of them?’ I never really had a teacher, a coach, or a special captain to learn the art of punting. My high school coach, Paul Leroy, showed me two things about foot alignment and ball placement. And that was pretty much it. All through high school and college, I played the other positions as well. I was a good athlete and could have been a major league pitcher or an NBA basketball player, but I knew God had something special for me and eventually one sport would stand out beyond the rest. And it did. Playing in the NFL with the Raiders was my destiny and I never looked back or questioned my decision. After joining the Raiders, however, I realized I had to concentrate on just one thing, being the best punter I could be. There was nothing too technical or complicated about how I punted the ball. I was just totally committed to my craft and the diligence in my preparation. Though I may not have realized it at the time all those years of playing football, I was setting benchmarks for young athletes to follow. I like to think I can continue to help others by teaching what I have learned and to inspire them as they begin to dream and to start their journey. That’s why I have the Pro Kicker Kicking Academy every year. We teach young kids the basic fundamentals and mechanics of the kicking game and to instill in them the importance of hard work, determination and patience, so maybe someday they too can stand on this stage. You know, a God-given talent is one of the greatest gifts an individual can be blessed with, but to use a God-given gift for just oneself is not the answer. The true benefit of a gift is to share it with others. Even though I had a special talent, I was taught to keep my ego in its place. I’ve always been a humble person. I’ve never felt comfortable with attention football brought. I’d rather be in the background just one of the people. That’s who I am. Often when I meet people, they say something like, ‘I can’t believe how down to earth you are.’ Or, ‘Man, it’s easy to talk to you.’ That always makes me chuckle. I tell them, ‘I am who I am and that’s all you’re ever gonna get.’ That simple phrase sums up what my dad taught me – be who you are and no one else. I’ve always been myself, believed in myself and I am very comfortable with who I am and what I have accomplished.
Back in January, a lady came up to me at a banquet that I had in Augusta, Georgia, for my Ray Guy award that I give out and she told me that the biblical meaning of the number eight on my jersey meant a new beginning. If that’s true, then I’d like my enshrinement and number eight to represent a new beginning for punters into the Hall of Fame.
I hope I inspire young punters to achieve their dreams to one day play in the NFL and maybe even be elected into the Hall of Fame. It’s been a long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team.
Punters are a very important part of a team, regardless of how many times they step onto the field. It only takes one play to change the outcome of a game, so punters, keep the faith. You are an important part of every game. I’ve been lucky to be able to do what so many others only dream of – to play professional football. And I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to be around so many great individuals like my fellow Hall of Famers. To stand beside them, to compete with them or against them has been great. Having inspirational leaders like my coaches and team owners and a great family life and the support of great friends, I could not have asked for anything better. But now the roar of the crowd has faded and as I said, there are no more games to play, no more records to set or break, and there are no more championships to win, but one thing reminds me – the memories. And they will always be forever. It’s awesome to be considered one of the game’s best and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To know my legacy will be forever a part of pro football history and that my bust will be alongside the greatest athletes of all time, it leaves this old punter speechless. So, in closing, all I can say is that it was for the love of the game that I’m here tonight. Thank you and God bless you."