With speed “ahead of all time,” Bob Hayes redefined fast to the NFL.
Fast took on a whole new meaning in the NFL when Bob Hayes arrived in 1965.
The league had seen its share of fast players before. Then Hayes became a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys a year after earning the title of World’s Fastest Human.
“No one, unless they saw Bob run, can fathom how fast this guy was,” Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach told the Florida Times Union in 2002, just after Hayes’ death.
Staubach saw Hayes at the peak of his speed when the two played together in the 1965 College All-Star Game. That came a year after Hayes won Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters and 400 relay.
“There’s a lot of fast guys, even back then there was,” Staubach said last month. “But no one was as fast as Bob. I don’t think anybody today would be faster than him.”
The late Jake Gaither coached Hayes in football at Florida A&M, where Hayes spent his offseason running track and breaking world records.
“Nobody ran that fast,” Gaither once told ESPN.com’s Ralph Wiley. “Not possible. Not then. Not now.”
Gaither said Hayes wasn’t just ahead of his time.
“He was ahead of all time.”
His 9.1-second 100-yard dash and 10.0-second 100-meter dash — both world records — are proof of that.
His speed even left his contemporaries in awe.
“Me running against Bob would be like a linebacker running against me,” Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Renfro told Sport Magazine in 1966.
Renfro was an elite college sprinter at Oregon and ran against Hayes in college. Renfro also was fortunate enough to be Hayes’ Cowboys teammate.
Larry Wilson, another Hall of Fame defensive back, wasn’t as lucky. Wilson always played against Hayes.
“There was a time when I wished I were 20 pounds heavier,” Wilson told Pro Quarterback Magazine in 1971. “Now I wish I was 20 miles per hour faster.”
At his top speed in track, Sports Illustrated wrote in 1964 that Hayes reached nearly 27 miles per hour.
“His blinding speed amazes you, amazes everyone,” Cowboys head coach Tom Landry told Sport Magazine in 1966. “Even after weeks of practice it didn’t occur to us what this kind of speed was.”
Don Meredith, who threw 35 career TD passes to Hayes, had to adapt to that speed. In his own incomparable way, Meredith told Pro Quarterback Magazine in 1971 how he did it.
“You know how it is, walking across a field hunting quail? You have your gun at the ready because you know a bird is liable to pop up at any minute,” Meredith said. “Then it’s a flutter of wings and gone, man, gone. And you bring up the gun and snap a shot from sheer instinct.
“Well, after you have learned how to shoot quail, you can start learning how to throw to Bob Hayes.”
Even at age 30, Hayes had speed few could match. He joined a pro track circuit that offseason. He won 15 of the 16 40-yard dashes he ran, barnstorming around the country to run other NFL players in their hometowns. He lost only to a young Cliff Branch. He beat Browns star Greg Pruitt by 2 1/2 feet. He ran a 4.3 in another race to beat Mel Gray.
“One thing I knew about Bob was I don’t think he ever ran as fast as he could,” Renfro said last month. “He ran just as fast as he had to.”