TAMPA, Fla. -- The long, slow wait to get into the Hall of Fame ended at last for one of the fastest men to play in the NFL, Bob Hayes.
"Bullet Bob," the 1964 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist who went on to star for a decade with the Dallas Cowboys, was elected on Saturday, 28 years after first becoming eligible for induction.
His problems off the field were believed to have contributed to the delay, and though he died in 2002, he made sure his sister would be prepared if, somehow, he made it someday.
"He left a statement for me to read in case this day came," Lucille Hester said.
Hayes paid tribute to his high school, Florida A&M and concluded by thanking his hometown of Jacksonville, Dallas and the state of Texas.
"Just thank everyone in the whole world. I love you all," he wrote.
Hayes had drug and alcohol problems and legal issues in an era when the public wasn't nearly as accustomed to seeing its sports stars struggle off the field. He served 10 months in a Texas prison after pleading guilty in 1979 to delivering narcotics to an undercover 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 at about the same time he became eligible for the hall.
Earlier in week Staubach said he was pulling for Hayes to get in and spoke about how his teammate revolutionized the passing game, changing the way defenses played. Staubach claimed Hayes would be the fastest player in the NFL if he were playing today.
One of Hayes' biggest supporters for induction was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. In 2001, Jones made sure Hayes was inducted into the team's Ring of Fame.
"This is a deserving honor for one of the Cowboys' most truly gifted stars," Jones said. "We all know he changed the game on the field, but he also brought a unique star quality to the NFL that helped make professional football the most popular sport in the world. He was a world champion in two different sports, and he had a world-class heart.
Hayes twice led the NFL in touchdown receptions and in average yards per catch. He also was a terrific kick returner.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Hayes won the 100 meters, tying the world record of 10.05 seconds. He anchored the U.S. 400-meter relay team to victory in a world-record 39.06. Hayes' relay split was a sensational 8.6 seconds.
That speed translated to the football field, but his other troubles seemed to obscure his accomplishments.
"It didn't matter how long it took," his sister said, "The day is here, and it is historic."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press