When you think back on the career of a Hall of Fame player, there's such a body of work that it's easy to forget a play here or there that was so important. Such is the case with wide receiver Bob Hayes. So for those who may not remember or didn't know about it in the first place, it should be noted that Hayes made one of the most important plays in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.
After six seasons in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys were still looking for their first winning season. We started the 1966 season 4-0, but went 1-2-1 in the next four games. On Nov. 13, 1966, we were in Washington to face the rival Redskins and pinned back near our own end zone early in the second half of a close game. Desperately needing a big play, Hayes provided just that. Quarterback Don Meredith, throwing from the end zone, connected with Hayes for a 95-yard touchdown pass. Dallas won the game, 31-30. It was the start of a four-game winning streak that propelled Dallas to an Eastern Conference title.
That was Hayes' second season in the NFL, and he posted career highs with 64 receptions for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Hayes has always been a special guy to me. I think about most of the players we drafted over the years in Dallas as my children, and Hayes was near the top of the family tree.
My first contact with Hayes came in the spring of 1963. I was passing through on a scouting trip to Florida State, and stopped at Florida A&M to have dinner with A&M head coach Jake Gaither and his wife, Sadie. I took them to a restaurant called the Silver Slipper, and they both spent the entire night raving to me about this great kid named Bob Hayes. What I didn't know at the time was that the Gaithers were Hayes' legal guardians. So their praise might not have been completely objective!
Still, it was hard to ignore what they were telling me. They recalled one morning in the spring of 1962 when Hayes ran in the Florida A&M Relays (a big deal at the time). He ran 9.3 on a slow track to win the 100-yard dash. Then he flew down to a track meet in Miami and won another 100-yard dash that night!
Of course, that should come as no surprise when talking about a guy who would be known as "the fastest man alive." Hayes went on to earn Olympic gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. His performance in the 4x100 relay was the stuff of legend: The United States was in fifth place when he took the baton for the anchor leg of the relay. When he reached the finish, the U.S. had won the race by three meters.
What most people don't know about that race is that Hayes was wearing borrowed sneakers. His Olympic roommate, boxer Joe Frazier, had accidentally kicked Hayes' track shoes under the bed, and Hayes didn't realize it until he got to the track.
Hayes played only two years of high school football and he didn't do much more than return kicks at Florida A&M. Still, he was on our radar screen at the 1964 NFL draft.
I watched him practice at Florida A&M the day after that dinner with the Gaithers. Hayes was a backup running back. He was more stocky than sleek, not exactly the look of a world-class sprinter. But he had really good hands and he caught the ball well. In my scouting report, I noted he might be a better receiver than running back because of his speed.
Back then, you could draft redshirts -- that is, you could draft the rights to a player that still had a year of college eligibility, with the understanding that you couldn't sign him until he completed his eligibility.
The 1964 draft, held in Chicago on Dec. 2, 1963, was a marathon, thanks to the Cowboys. There was no time limit back then, and we were preparing to draft Mike Renfro in the second round but were waiting to get a medical report from a doctor we dispatched to Oregon to check out Renfro's injured wrist. Guys like George Halas grew very impatient with us, but we waited patiently and ended up being on the clock for six hours before finally taking Renfro. So by the time the seventh round of the draft rolled around, it was well past 1 a.m.. Dallas coach Tom Landry had to leave much earlier than that for an appointment the next day, so it was just myself and Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm.
As the Cowboys' seventh-round pick approached, Schramm -- who always coveted speed -- turned to me and said, "Who's the fastest guy left in the draft?"
No doubt who that was. And so, with the 88th pick in the draft, Dallas took Bob Hayes.
This was before the 1964 Olympics, and since Hayes still had a year of eligibility, the Cowboys still needed to win a "recruiting war" for Hayes with the Denver Broncos, who had taken him in the AFL draft. On about three different occasions in 1964, I went to visit Hayes in Jacksonville. His mother had a restaurant, and that's where we'd meet. It was there I learned to eat soul food -- and I drank a lot of Pepsi-Cola to wash down the collared greens and mustard greens.
When Hayes joined the Cowboys in the spring of 1965, wide receivers coach Red Hickey took him under his wing. Hickey had a great deal of patience and really was a great teacher. This was almost a one-on-one situation. Hickey taught him how to run routes and block.
Coach Landry loved quick passes and screens, and the Dallas offense made great use of Hayes on those plays. Dallas scored 100 more points in Hayes' rookie year than in the previous season.
Hayes was a very popular player outside the organization thanks to his success in the Olympics, but he was just as popular in the Dallas clubhouse, where his nickname was "Speedo."
I'm not sure there's ever been a player with so little experience come in and make that kind of impact so quickly. After his first three seasons in Dallas, Hayes had a total of 159 receptions and 35 touchdowns -- an incredible average of one touchdown every 4.5 catches.
In 10 years with the Cowboys, Hayes caught 365 passes and had 71 touchdown receptions. Do the math -- that's an incredible rate of one TD every 5.1 receptions! Hayes has less than half as many career catches as Dallas record-holder Michael Irvin, yet Hayes owns the team TD reception record, with six more than Irvin.
Now both are together on the same team -- the Pro Football Hall of Fame.