Remembering the Great Punters of the 1970s

It is perhaps the least appreciated, or probably the least understood position in a football game. I’m speaking about the occupation of punter. It is their job to—in effect—give the ball back to their team’s opponents by kicking it long distances out of their own territory…if possible. There were quite a few exemplary punters in the NFL during the decade of the 1970s.

Each possessed their own special talents which made them unique. The list of some of those great punters is mentioned here in this episode. Keep in mind that this is a random list and not a complete list of great punters of the decade.

Ray Guy - The Greatest Punter of the 1970s

Undeniably, the greatest punter of the 1970s was none other than Oakland’s Ray Guy. You know that you are great when you get an award named after you. The Ray Guy Award goes annually to the best punter in college football.

Guy was a first-round draft choice of the Raiders in 1973, and he wasted no time in proving why he was selected and esteemed so highly. Guy was a pure athlete, and his ultra-strong leg was something to behold. His hang time on his punts—sometimes more than five seconds–was never seen before in the NFL. Guy was also an excellent coffin corner punter. And his best coffin corner punts would usually come in the biggest games.

Guy played 14 years in the NFL, all with the Raiders. His lifetime career punting average is 42.4 yards per punt. In short, Ray Guy was as great of a consistent weapon as the Oakland Raiders had during the 1970s. He was a member of Oakland’s Super Bowl XI World Championship team.

Another great punter during the decade was Kansas City’s Jerrel Wilson, who made a name for himself thanks to his longevity.

Wilson played 16 years in pro football, 15 of which were with the Chiefs. He led the AFL twice in best punting average, and he led the NFL twice in best punting average. Wilson played through a few leg injuries to accumulate 47,139 total punting yards in his career.

His 43 yards per punt average is one of the best in pro football history, considering the number of years that he played. Wilson was a member of Kansas City’s Super Bowl IV World Championship team.

Mike Eischeid - AFL / NFL Punter

Mike Eischeid was another punter like Jerrel Wilson, who began his career in the old AFL, and then finished it in the NFL. Eischeid played for nine years in pro football. He began his career in 1966 with Oakland, and he ended his career in 1974 with Minnesota. He played in Super Bowl II with the Raiders and Super Bowls VIII and IX with the Vikings. He had a career average of 41.2 yards per punt.

David Lee - Baltimore Colts

Baltimore’s David Lee also saw action in the Super Bowl. Lee’s consistency helped the Colts to win Super Bowl V in January of 1971. He played 13 seasons in the NFL, all in Baltimore. Throughout his career, he never missed a game. Lee punted for 34,019 total yards during his career, which accounted for a lifetime punting average of 40.6 yards. In his final year (1978) Lee punted the ball an incredible 92 times.

John James

John James played 15 years in the NFL for three different teams (Atlanta, Detroit, and Houston). James led the league in number of punts and total punting yardage four different times, in 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1978.

He finished his career with 1,083 total punts, for an incredible 43,992 total punting yards. Like Ray Guy, James also perfected the coffin corner punt, which helped his defensive teammates immensely.

Larry Seiple - Miami Dolphins

Larry Seiple of the Miami Dolphins is best known for his fake punt in the 1972 AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh. Late in the second quarter of that contest against the Steelers, Seiple took off on fourth down and ran down the far sideline for 37 yards and a drive-continuing first down, which led to a vital touchdown in Miami’s eventual 21-17 victory.

But like Ray Guy, Seiple too was a great athlete. He spent much of his 11-year career not just as their punter, but also as an emergency wide receiver. He pulled in a total of 73 passes during his career. He also punted for 25,347 total yards during his career, and his lifetime punting average was 40 yards per punt. He was a member of Miami’s 1972 and 1973 Super Bowl Championship teams.

Dave Jennings

Dave Jennings played for both the New York Giants and the New York Jets during his 14-year pro career. He accumulated an astounding 47,567 total punting yards in the NFL.

He led the league in punting yardage in both 1979 and 1980. The longest punt of Jennings’ career went for 73 yards. He made five All-Pro teams from 1978 to 1982.

Ron Widby (Cowboys and Packers)

Finally, Ron Widby was a member of the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. He was a member of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI World Championship team. He played seven years in pro football. Like many great punters during his era, Widby was also a great overall athlete. He was an All-SEC basketball player while he was in college at the University of Tennessee.

He played in the 1971 Pro Bowl, and the longest punt of his career traveled for an incredible 84 yards.

Again, this is not a complete list of great punters in the NFL during the 1970s. There are undoubtedly more of them, and many of you listeners might be able to name some more.

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Trivia Question:

Which of the above two punters that I spoke about in this podcast played against each other in a Super Bowl?

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    Host of Pro Football in the 1970s - Joe Zagorski

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