State Your Case: Rohn Stark
Led the NFL in punting three times and finished second three more times
(Published March 2021)
There are 49 running backs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 34 wide receivers and 33 quarterbacks.
The skill of players who touch the football are well represented. But there is one position that handles the ball that Canton has all but ignored – punter.
Only one has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame – Ray Guy – and it took him 23 years to get there … and only then as a senior candidate. The Oakland Raiders thought so highly of Guy that they used a first-round pick on him in 1973 and he rewarded them with 14 seasons of elite punting. He was voted to seven Pro Bowls and led the NFL in punting three times.
Guy was a punter before the NFL decided to designate his position as a “specialist.” He was worthy of the Hall but he wasn’t alone. There are two other pure punters that have long deserved to have their cases heard, Jerrel Wilson of the 1960s Kansas City Chiefs and Rohn Stark of the 1980s Baltimore Colts.
Only two punters were drafted higher than Stark in NFL history — Guy and Steve Little, both in the first round. Guy was a big hit and Little a big miss. Little was in and out of the league inside of three seasons. Stark was another big hit. He was selected with the 34th overall pick of the1982 draft, just seven picks outside of the first round.
Like Wilson and Guy, Stark arrived in the NFL when several teams did not even have designated special-teams coaches — much less assistant special-teams coaches, special-teams quality-control coaches or kicking coaches.
There were no such thing as gunners and special-teams “aces” back then. Deep snappers were often position players who did the hiking for kicking downs on the side. The kickers and punters often practiced by themselves during the week while the coaching staff focused on the offensive and defensive units.
So the punters back then were self made – and Stark made himself quite the punter.
Like Guy, Stark brought quite a resume with him to the NFL. He spent four seasons as Florida State’s punter, earning All-America acclaim in both 1980 and 1981. He was a team captain as a senior when he set a school single-season record with his 46.0-yard punting average. His 42.7-yard career average also set a school record and Stark never had a punt blocked in 244 kicks.
Stark finished second in the NFL in punting as a rookie in 1982 with a 44.4-yard average, then was voted first-team all-pro in 1983 when he led the league for the first time with his 45.3-yard average. He led the NFL in punting again in 1985 and 1986 and was voted to the Pro Bowl each time. Stark went to his final two Pro Bowls in 1990 and 1992, both times finishing as the NFL runnerup with a 43.4-yard average in 1992 and a 44.8-yard average in 1992.
Stark left the Colts after 13 seasons with the franchise records for career punts and yardage. He signed with the Steelers in 1995 and appeared in his only Super Bowl that season, launching punts of 55 and 52 yards against the Dallas Cowboys in that game. The Steelers fell, 27-17, and Stark went on to play two more seasons, one with the San Diego Chargers and one with the Seattle Seahawks.
Stark ranks 14th all-time in punts, 11th in yardage and 48th in career average at 43.4. But 39 of the punters in front of him began their NFL careers in the 2000 decade, benefitting from the presence of special-teams coaches, designated deep snappers and special-teams aces of this era. Stark was a weapon before most NFL teams realized punters could even be a weapon.
More than one punter is deserving of that Hall of Fame discussion. Wilson and Stark would be good places to start.