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Hayes remembered as class act, fighter
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Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Hayes was Olympic gold-medal winner
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- "Bullet'' Bob Hayes, the Olympic gold-medal sprinter and Dallas Cowboys star who was once considered the world's fastest man, died at age 59.
Hayes died of kidney failure at Shands Hospital late Sept. 18, daughter Westine Lodge said. He was hospitalized earlier this month and had also battled liver ailments and prostate cancer.
Hayes had a sparkling athletic career, and as a Cowboys receiver forced the rest of the NFL to change the way pass defense was played. But many of his accomplishments were later tainted by drug and alcohol addiction, which landed him in prison and was a big reason he was never enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Hayes won the gold medal in the 100 meters, tying the then-world record of 10.05 seconds, and he anchored the United States 400-meter relay team to victory in a world-record 39.06.
Hayes' relay split was a sensational 8.6 and he earned the title "World's Fastest Human.'' Nearly 20 years later, The Los Angeles Times called it "the most astonishing sprint of all time.''
The record in the 100 meters was broken last week by another American, Tim Montgomery, who lowered the mark to 9.78 at a meet in Paris.
Robert Lee Hayes was born in Jacksonville on Dec. 20, 1942, and went on to become a track star at Florida A&M.
In 1964, the Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round, taking a chance on a sprinter with blazing speed but unrefined football skills.
Longtime Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, who recruited Hayes, remembers how quickly the sprinter made the jump from world-class track to pro football.
"Everyone was kind of apprehensive at training camp because that's a lot different from the regular season,'' Brandt said Thursday. "Then, all of a sudden, we got into the regular season and he did the same thing.
"By today's standards, he'd be a $3 or $4 million a year guy.''
In his rookie season with the Cowboys, Hayes had 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the NFL with an average of 21.8 yards a catch.
That showed his big-play ability, and Hayes' world-class speed forced defenses -- unable to cover him with traditional man-to-man schemes -- to come up with many of the zone defenses that are common in today's game.
When Dallas won the 1972 Super Bowl, Hayes became the only athlete to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. More than 30 years later, he's still the only player with both.
His success came long before the era when athletes like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan got much credit for simply trying to succeed at two sports. Hayes won championships in both track and football.
He finished an 11-year NFL career with 71 touchdown catches, a 20-yard average per catch, and three trips to the Pro Bowl. His statistics were comparable or better than many of the great receivers of his day, and his career appeared worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
But he hasn't made it, in part because of a drug and alcohol problem in an era when the public wasn't nearly as accustomed to seeing its sports stars struggle with their personal lives.
Hayes served 10 months in prison after an April 1979 guilty plea to delivering narcotics to an undercover police officer. That "destroyed my life,'' Hayes wrote in his autobiography, "Run, Bullet, Run: The Rise, Fall, and Recovery of Bob Hayes.''
The prison term ended about the same time he became eligible for the Hall, apparently dooming his chances for enshrinement. He was, however, inducted in the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1976.
Still, he said being left out of the football Hall of Fame made him feel "like an outcast -- like I've been left out and forgotten throughout the nation.''
"There's a lot of pain in my heart because what I accomplished was second to none,'' he said in 1999. "I'm not losing any sleep, but I do pay attention every year at this time.''
He wasn't alone in his disappointment.
Tex Schramm, the former Cowboys president and general manager, is among those who has never reconciled Hayes' absence from the Hall.
"The situation with Bob Hayes and the Hall of Fame is one of the most tragic stories I've ever been associated with during my time in professional football,'' Schramm said.
Adding insult to that shun was that Hayes wasn't even in the Cowboys Ring of Honor until owner Jerry Jones made him the 11th member in September 2001.
"I'm thrilled, I'm grateful, I'm blessed,'' Hayes told the crowd at his induction. "I played for the world's greatest professional sports team in history. Once a Dallas Cowboy, always a Dallas Cowboy.''
Hayes retired in 1976 and lived in Dallas, before moving back to Jacksonville in the mid-1990s where he lived with his parents in relative obscurity. He continued to fight drug and alcohol problems and went to rehab programs three times after his retirement.
"I won gold medals representing this country, but I've gotten more recognition around the world than I have in my own back yard,'' he said.
Hayes kept close ties with his old college, going to as many Florida A&M games as he could.
"Even after he got very sick, he still made it to the football games up here,'' said Eddie Jackson, a retired university vice president for public affairs and a longtime friend. "We'd see he was not looking well, or feeling well, but if Florida A&M was playing, Bob Hayes would be there.''
Hayes is survived by his mother, a brother and a sister, and five children.
Services will be here at 10:30 a.m. ET Wednesday at Bethel Baptist Church under the direction of A.B. Coleman Mortuary, with burial to follow at Edgewood Cemetery.
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