When Bob Hayes became ill last year, I went to see him in the hospital at Shands Jacksonville, slipping in the back door and wandering up to his room. He did not look well, perhaps a simplistic statement about somebody who is in the hospital, but he looked sick. He called me by name as I walked into the doorway and motioned me to a chair next to the bed. “I’m tired,” the man once known as ‘The World’s Fastest Man,’ said in a low voice.
We talked a little bit about football, watched some television and just passed the time. It was just the two of us, and as I left, Hayes said, “I need some prayers.”
Hayes had a conflicted life, the highest highs and the lowest lows. The only man to win an Olympic Gold Medal and a Super Bowl ring, Hayes was never able to capitalize on his success, having succumbed to the fast lifestyle available to someone of his notoriety in the 60’s and 70’s. He continued to battle life’s temptations until he became ill last year.
From the streets of Jacksonville to a high school without a track, Hayes took his speed to FAMU and to US Track and Field. The Dallas Cowboys saw raw talent there, and helped transform Hayes into an unmatched weapon in professional football. He changed the way defenses played the game. They invented the zone defense trying to keep Hayes from running wild every Sunday. He still holds several Cowboys records. He was inducted into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor last year. So why, I’m often asked, isn’t Bob Hayes in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When he was eligible as a modern day player, Hayes was denied selection because of his off-field problems. The social conscience of the time wouldn’t allow the selection committee to consider Hayes for the Hall. Paul Hornung wasn’t selected until his final year of eligibility, no doubt because of his suspension for gambling. That reasoning for the lack of consideration is no longer valid. The Committee selected Lawrence Taylor for induction with many well-documented off-field transgressions (I voted no on Taylor) saying they were not allowed to be considered according to the selection by laws.
Some committee members at the time were biased against Hayes, a track man in a football world. And some considered his alleged lack of willingness to perform in the NFL Championship Game, the “Ice Bowl” in Green Bay, enough of an indictment to keep him out of the Hall. Whatever the reason, or reasons, Hayes was not selected during his eligibility as a modern day player. He would only be eligible as a senior candidate at this point.
The seniors committee meets every August to go through the list of former players, coaches and contributors who might have “slipped through the cracks.” Former Coach George Allen is the latest person to be inducted under these criteria. So, if the seniors committee did not select Hayes last month, he can be considered again in August of 2003. His death will have no bearing on his consideration. The committee has shown no sentimentality in the past.
The dynamic of the full selection committee has also changed dramatically in the last five years as well. It’s more focused on performance of a player than ever before. The average age, through retirement, expansion and franchise relocation, has gotten younger. If Hayes were brought before this committee in the future, his chances for induction would be greater than before. One of the comments in favor of Lynn Swann two years ago cited a mental highlight reel of the NFL in the 70’s and early 80’s that couldn’t run without Swann in it. The same can be said for Hayes in a earlier era.