By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Still Bulletproof After All These Years
When he met with the media, very few adjectives junked up his assessments of players or games or seasons in progress.
He waited until after he had retired to tell us just how really big a deal winning Super Bowl VI was for his Dallas Cowboys, who had lost the “big game” five years in a row (Green Bay twice, Cleveland twice and Baltimore in SB V).
So I’m just guessing that Landry hated himself for getting all wordy after a Sept. 11, 1965, preseason game in which rookie “Bullet” Bob Hayes made an unbelievable TD catch.
It was the preseason finale: Cowboys-Bears at Skelly Stadium in Tulsa. Hayes exploded off the line of scrimmage like the “World’s Fastest Human” he was, raced under a what appeared, to some, to be an overthrown ball…and caught it in stride.
The Chicago secondary gave up on the play; Hayes did not.
Landry later tried to describe what he just had seen with words such as “rare” and “revolutionary.” Hayes could make even a man like Landry gush.
Pro Football Hall of Fame voters today — most of whom never covered Hayes or the NFL from 1965-74 — continue to keep Hayes locked out of Canton, Ohio. He’s not even on the HOF ballot anymore.
There’s an old saying that ignorance is bliss. Well, it’s also annoying.
Imagine a tactical coach like Landry flushed with pressure to come up with ways — i.e., script plays — to use Hayes’ world-class speed in the team’s multiple offense, without wasting a moment of time or an ounce of talent.
Now fast-forward. HOF voters can’t get it right even when they almost do.
They met at the Houston Super Bowl to decide the Class of 2004, and Hayes made it into the “final six” after two rounds of voting.
There was room for all six candidates to be enshrined, mind you. It required 80-percent approval on one last ballot, sort of an “are you sure you want to save this file?”
A perfunctory “yes” from at least 32 (of 39) voters in the room would have been enough.
No problem, right? This was “Bullet” Bob Hayes, who once turned Landry’s head and forced opposing defenses to devise zone coverages in an attempt to corral him.
Well, four HOF candidates received the necessary votes to enter the Class of ’04. Only Hayes and ex-Dallas teammate Rayfield Wright were left out in the cold (although the latter got in two years later).
Hayes, who died in September 2002, has never come closer than that ’04 HOF short list.
‘Kid with 9.1 speed’M.
So why aren’t Hall of Fame voters as blown away by “Bullet Bob” Hayes as Landry was 43 years ago?
Maybe they didn’t see what Landry saw.
The longtime Cowboys coach once told author Dave Klein in Tom and The ‘Boys: “All we really knew was that we had drafted and signed (for three years at $50,000 a year) a kid with 9.1 speed,” referring to Hayes’ 100-yard dash time at the ’63 national track-and-field championships in St. Louis.
Dallas made Hayes a “future pick” in the ’64 NFL draft. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, he captured two gold medals at the ’64 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Could Hayes really be a football player (Florida A&M) who ran track, not vice-versa?
No one knew for sure.
Then, before he even had a chance to prove or disprove himself in Cowboys’ training camp at Thousand Oakes, Calif., Hayes was red-flagged for dropping balls during workouts at the ’65 College All-Star Game in Chicago.
That perception soon vanished when Hayes arrived at Thousand Oaks. It turned out that his hand had been stepped on by a pair of cleats during a College All-Star practice.
“When we saw how well he really could catch — not great, mind you, but very good — we started to relax a little,” Landry said in Klein’s 1990 book. “And then he had that catch.”
Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium was enlarged to 40,235 seats during the summer of ’65.
The place was abuzz with two NFL teams in town. Nobody seemed to care that it wasn’t a regular-season game.
Dallas backup QB Jerry Rhome, taken as a “future pick” in the same ’64 draft as Hayes, was in the game when “that catch” occurred. Rhome was playing in front of family, friends and old college fans.
It was a hook-and-go on third down. The Bears bit on the play.
To Rhome, the play was “right on target”, but to some observers, it was overthrown. Either way, Hayes turned on the jets and chased the ball into the endzone. Touchdown.
On the plane ride home, Landry could hardly contain himself. He had just witnessed, with his own saucer-sized eyes, this “World’s Fastest Human” in helmet and pads literally chase down a mistake and turn it into a touchdown.
The fact that the Cowboys won 27-17 was a footnote.
The fact that Hayes was ready for his first regular-season test made Landry squirm.
“Even as we were flying back to Dallas,” Landry recalled in the Klein book, “I was starting to draw up new passing plays…â€‚[because] I knew I had to start him when the season opened.”
How perfect. The Cowboys opened the ’65 season against Landry’s old New York Giants.
“I knew [Hayes] was a rookie and didn’t have much experience, but Lord, what a weapon,” said Landry. “What a weapon.”
‘That’s pretty far out’
That first season, Hayes became the Cowboys’ first 1,000-yard receiver (1,003) with a gaudy 21.8-yard average and a dozen touchdowns (in 14 games).
The next season, Hayes piled up 246 receiving yards on one given Sunday — still a team record — in a 31-30 victory at Washington.
A year after that, Hayes racked up 285 yards on eight touches — 144 yards on five receptions, 141 yards on three punt returns — in a 52-14 Eastern Conference title game blowout against Cleveland.
That led to the famous Ice Bowl, where the Cowboys lost to the Packers in record arctic temps on a Bart Starr QB sneak.
Nitpickers will point to a video clip of Hayes — flanked wide with his fingertips stuck in the front of his pants — as a sign of disinterestâ€‚…â€‚or weakness.
“That’s pretty far out,” said Eddie LeBaron, laughing.
It was New Year’s Eve at Lambeau Field. It was minus-48 degrees wind chill. Yet, pictures of Hayes trying to persevere are as damning as Jethro Pugh slip-sliding backward on a sheet of goal-line ice by a Jerry Kramer game-winning block. (Kramer later admitted he found a “divot” for his push-off foot; Pugh did not.)
LeBaron (1960-64) never played with Hayes, but wished he had. Who wouldn’t?
“The Cowboys were starting to get pretty good by 1965 and had some guys who could catch the ball,” said LeBaron, who broadcast NFL games on CBS during the mid- to-late ’60s.
“But the one guy who kept the other team unnerved was Bobby Hayesâ€‚…â€‚with that world-class speed of his.”
It’s still possible for Hayes to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But it’s now up to the Veterans Committee to make him a finalist so that his name can make it onto another ballot to be put to another Super Bowl Eve vote.
The fact that Hayes hasn’t been enshrined at Canton, Ohio, once prompted Tex Schramm, before his death in 2003, to call it “one of the most tragic stories” in Schramm’s 43 years in the NFL.
Hayes finished with a 365-catch, 7,295-yard career with the Cowboys. He still holds team records for most career TD receptions (71) and best career yards-per-catch (20.0).
He played in big games, in nationally-televised games, and for what was commonly called (like ‘em or hate ‘em) America’s Team.
He brought world-class pedigree and a nickname to fit. He forced the game to recognize him.
Robert Lee “Bullet Bob” Hayes…an enigma then.
His HOF snub…an enigma now.