He was fast. That much was known about the running back from Florida A&M who drew the lukewarm attention of the Dallas Cowboys during the 1964 NFL draft.
Fast, as in world-class speed. Fast, as in two gold medals at the '64 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Fast, as in "World's Fastest Human," the label Bob Hayes wore after his medal-winning performance in the 100-meters competition.
What wasn't known about Hayes was the kind of impact he could have on the football field. After all, he'd been a backup running back in college, starting only a handful of games. He also had missed part of his senior season to compete in the Olympics.
Staubach on Hayes
And Hayes it was.
Brandt, now an analyst for NFL.com, is the first to admit that neither he nor anyone else who was part of the Cowboys' brass at the time knew what they were getting in Hayes. Yet, they did know that, for a track guy, he had a surprisingly stocky, nearly 200-pound frame that featured exceptionally thick thighs. They also knew that, for a running back, he looked like a pretty good receiver during the Senior Bowl college all-star game. Cowboys coach Tom Landry, who served as one of the Senior Bowl coaches, watched Hayes catch passes from a quarterback from Alabama named Joe Namath. It became obvious that Hayes was actually a better receiver than the any of the wideouts in the game.
Sure, he was fast, but he also was capable of providing so much more. And, for the next 10 seasons in a Dallas uniform, Hayes would demonstrate that he had the necessary qualities to become one of the greatest players in NFL history, performing well enough to gain posthumous entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2009.
Besides considerable speed and athleticism, the Cowboys got someone with a tremendous work ethic, which allowed him to learn how to become a great NFL receiver. At the time, Hayes was a bigger name as an Olympian than he was as a football player. He could have thrived on the public-speaking circuit and as a pitchman, but winning Olympic gold had not turned Hayes into a prim donna. He was willing to do whatever was necessary to excel in a different sport -- in the game he had chosen for his livelihood.
Landry assigned one of his assistant coaches, Red Hickey, to oversee Hayes' conversion from track star to football player.
Hayes faced some steep challenges:
» The quarterbacks throwing to him in his first NFL training camp, Craig Morton and Jerry Rhome, had distinctively different styles. Morton threw the ball like a rocket; Rhome threw it like a balloon.
» He was so fast that he consistently drew double coverage, but early on he struggled to make cuts and didn't have a good understanding of how to run routes.
» Hickey was an extremely demanding coach.
"The one thing that I think was very difficult for Bob was, with Red Hickey, if you dropped a pass you were coming out of the game," said former NFL coach and Cowboy running back Dan Reeves, who was Hayes' teammate for eight seasons and was an assistant coach for Hayes' final two years in Dallas. "That was tough on Bob early, but it made you work harder."
By 1966, Hayes began to smooth out the rough edges and beat double coverage enough to establish career highs for receptions (64), yards (1,232), and touchdowns (13).
"I scored (a career-high) 16 touchdowns that year (eight receiving), and a lot of that was because I was getting wide open," Reeves said. "They were going to cover Hayes and they were leaving me open."
Later in Hayes' career, the Cowboys began using a quick-screen play, in which he would step back from the line of scrimmage after the snap, catch a short pass, and, with a guard or tackle pulling to block for him, spring loose for long gains. When executed properly, the opposition simply couldn't stop it because no one was going to catch Hayes in the open the field.
It took plenty of time and effort, but Hayes transferred the incredible physical gifts that made him the "World's Fastest Human" into one of the NFL's greatest players.
"Bob wanted to be a football player, and he worked very hard to be one," Brandt said. "Now you can work very hard to be a football player, but if you don't have the talent to play the position, it won't matter. His talent was far more than we ever thought it was."