- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

Remember how fast Darrell Green was when he first came into the NFL, how he could make even a Human Blur like Tony Dorsett look like he was running in sand? Well, Bob Hayes was even faster than that. Not only was he speedier than Darrell - and every other earthling in the mid-‘60s - he was also competing against players who, for the most part, weren’t nearly as quick as they are today.

Hayes was so supersonic, Tom Landry once said almost giddily, he was the only Dallas Cowboys player “fast enough to escape my wrath.” Bullet Bob could outrun world-class sprinters, defenders with perfectly good pursuit angles, and this weekend, seven years after his death at 59, his lightning legs will carry him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It’s about time.

I’m aware of all the arguments that have kept Hayes out of the Hall until now. Arguments such as: (a.) he was force in the league for only seven seasons (1965-71) and (b.) his numbers - 371 receptions for 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns - are modest by current standards. He also badly botched his football afterlife, spending nearly a year in prison for a drug conviction and enrolling in one rehab program after another.

But if you’re old enough to have seen Hayes in his glory days - especially his first four years in the NFL, when there was no more frightening receiver in football - you know he belongs in the Hall… and probably shouldn’t have had to wait so long to get there.

Indeed, you have to wonder if Hayes will be the last Olympian to make it to Canton - or to even to have much of an impact on the game. We live, after all, in such a specialized world, and two-sport athletes are increasingly rare. Jim Thorpe and Ollie Matson, of course, are Hall of Famers, and a number of other Olympians have had fine NFL careers, the most recent being shot putter Michael Carter with the 49ers. (We won’t talk about “bobsledder” Herschel Walker.)

But to be certifiably great in both arenas? You’re talking about an extremely short list there - and Hayes is on it. The footage of his anchor leg in the 400-meter relay in the 1964 Games - after he had blown away the field in the 100 - still astounds all these decades later. Search for it on the Internet sometime - and then ask yourself: Has any man, woman or cheetah ever run faster than that?

Hayes trailed by about three meters when he took the baton. At the tape, he was about the same distance ahead - and pulling away. The assistant American track coach timed him in 8.6 seconds, which seems impossible. But that was the thing about Bob, part of his mystique: He always gave the impression that he could run as fast as he needed to.

The reason Hayes excelled at football - while other sprinters, such as Jim Hines, Tommie “Jet” Smith and John Carlos, were abject failures in the game - is that, as Jake Gaither once said, “The only good football-playing sprinters are guys who are football players first and then develop into track stars. You can’t do it the other way around. Bob is a football player. He just happened to be fast enough to run 9.1 [over 100 yards] in his spare time.”

The famed Gaither was Hayes’ college coach at Florida A&M; - which explains why the World’s Fastest Man wasn’t taken until the seventh round of the draft. A&M; wasn’t exactly a regular stop for pro scouts (though it had already produced a pretty fair runner named Willie Galimore).

The first time most Americans got to see Hayes run with the ball was in the North-South Shrine Game at the Orange Bowl on Christmas Day 1964. (This, let’s not forget, was in the pre-ESPN era, when even the best teams were lucky to get on TV two or three times a year.) I was just 11 then, still teething on my Street and Smith’s magazine, but I can vividly recall Bob taking a handoff from Navy’s Roger Staubach on an end around and warp-speeding into the end zone 39 yards away. He was voted MVP of the South team that afternoon, but more importantly, his football talents were dragged out into the daylight. Clearly he had star potential; he wasn’t merely Another Track Guy looking for better-paying work.

His first season with the Cowboys… wow. It wasn’t just that he caught 12 touchdowns passes, one off the record for rookies, it was that they measured 45, 45, 49, 82, 24, 34, 28, 45, 44, 46, 65 and 33 yards - an average of 45.

Few players have ever hit the NFL with the force Hayes did. In one stretch that year, he scored the winning TD in the fourth quarter three weeks in a row. And this, I’ll just point out, was back when there was no one-bump rule, when a DB or linebacker could beat on a receiver like a base drum if he wanted. If Bullet Bob played today, when wideouts are treated like endangered species, he’d be even better.

Hayes possessed the scariest kind of speed - the speed to embarrass. In his first four seasons, before defensive coordinators came up with more diabolical schemes to contain him, he put the ball in the end zone 49 times as a receiver and punt returner, more than anybody else in the league except Leroy Kelly (51), the Hall of Fame Browns back. (Gale Sayers was third with 48.)

Thanks to NFL Films, much has been made of Hayes sticking his hands in his pants while running routes in the Ice Bowl, the refrigerated game against the Packers for the 1967 title. (Hey, the wind chill in Green Bay that Sunday was almost 40 below. Give the poor, uh, Floridian a break.)

What no one ever mentions is that the week before, in the Eastern Conference championship game against the Browns, Bob put on one of the greatest playoff performances in league history. He caught an 86-yard touchdown pass (a postseason record at the time), had a 36-yard gain to the Cleveland 6 that set up another TD and had punt returns of 68 and 64 yards that set up two more scores.

But then, Hayes was always a threat to turn a football game into a track meet. Unlike other sprinters-turned-receivers, though, he understood, as he once put it, that “you can’t use all your speed at once. You have to wait for your blockers or you get killed. Course, when you get a little running room, that’s another story.”

Another time, he drew this distinction between the two sports: “In football you have to perform with men really coming at you. In track you just line up and run.”

In either venue, Bob Hayes had opponents eating his dust. And Sunday he’ll get his just desserts and take up residence among the immortals - in the Never Never Land of Canton, where the sun is always shining and the field is always fast.

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