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Cowboys' Hayes changed the game

8/7/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

SAN ANTONIO -- As the Cowboys continue to prepare for the 2009 season, one of the club's greatest players will take his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. It's unfortunate the late Bob Hayes isn't around to slip on the famed gold jacket, but his legacy endures in the league. 

In fact, the man who presented Hayes before the Hall's selection panel last February, Rick "Goose" Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, wrote recently that Hayes almost single-handedly introduced the league to the "speed receiver." When Hayes won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he earned the "Fastest Man in the World" title. Cowboys director of scouting Gil Brandt had already started drafting players who excelled in sports other than football, and that's why Hayes was a seventh-round pick in 1964.

On Friday, I tracked down Hayes' former teammate and good friend Walt Garrison. The now 64-year-old Garrison, who lives on a ranch in Argyle, Texas, joined the Cowboys a year after Hayes and Dan Reeves showed up on the scene. Garrison missed his first training camp in 1966 because of an All-Star game, but he distinctly remembers watching Hayes during the 1967 camp.

"We were all running 40-yard dash times of 4.5, 4.6 and 4.7," said Garrison. "Bob goes out and runs a 4.3 -- and he never took his sweats off. I thought, 'what in the hell have I gotten into?' 

Garrison chuckled when he said Hayes "couldn't catch a cold in a blizzard" early in his NFL career, but said the receiver worked hard to improve his hands. And unlike some players who came from other sports, Garrison said Hayes wasn't afraid to go across the middle. Of course, his favorite thing to do was sprint past everyone so quarterback Don Meredith could air it out. Garrison said he recalls Hayes catching a touchdown pass behind Giants Pro Bowl defensive back Carl "Spider" Lockhart, a speedster in his own right, in the late 1960s.

"Someone asked Bob if he was worried Spider was going to catch him, and he said, 'Nah, he only runs a 10.3 [in the 100]."

Like so many of Hayes' former teammates, Garrison hates that the receiver won't be there in person Saturday. Garrison said he was thrilled when Hayes got in because of the lasting impact he's had on the game.

"When I think about guys like Lawrence Taylor and Bob Hayes, I'm thinking about players who changed the way the game is played," said Garrison. "One guy couldn't cover him. No one could play man-to-man coverage against him, and that's why he basically caused zone coverage." 

As a rookie, Garrison said he remembers Hayes playing cards a lot with Cornell Green and Jethro Pugh. He said they asked him to join them for a game called "Tonk" one time.

"It cost me $150 to learn how to play," Garrison said. 

Hayes should have been in the Hall a long time ago, but it is great that it finally happened. Garrison said his former teammates will all be tuned in tomorrow for a "great, great occasion."