Hayes, Robert ("Bob"; "Bullet")

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HAYES, Robert ("Bob"; "Bullet")

(b. 20 December 1942 in Jacksonville, Florida), world-record sprinter, Olympic champion, and football player for the Dallas Cowboys who is the only person ever to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring.

Hayes grew up in the ghetto on the east side of Jacksonville, Florida, the youngest of three children of a poor African-American family. His family's poverty increased when his father returned from World War II in a wheelchair, as their main source of income became his father's disability pension. Hayes, who spent much of his childhood skipping school and roaming the streets with friends, escaped much of his father's military-style discipline and once recalled, "Being the youngest in the family I kinda got everything I wanted." He also noted that he did not apply himself to earning good grades.

One of the fastest runners of all time, Hayes, known as "Bullet" to his fans, began sprinting at age sixteen. He was more interested in football at the time, but when the track coach saw him running in gym class, wearing ordinary street shoes and outstripping everyone in the class, he convinced him to join the track team. At his first meet, Hayes entered seven events—the 100, 220, 440, and 880 yards, as well as the sprint relay, long jump, and high jump. He won them all. His friends, seeing an opportunity to cash in, began setting him up to race against the older boys in the school and taking bets on the action. It was a sure thing: he always won.

Despite his success on the track, he was still more interested in football and won a football scholarship to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. However, he did not stay on the football field long. Track coach Robert (Pete) Griffin became a mentor and father figure to the young runner and helped him improve his speed on the track. They worked together, and Hayes steadily improved.

In 1961 Hayes repaid Griffin's interest when he became the thirteenth person to tie the then world record, set by Mel Patton, of 9.3 seconds for the 100-yard dash. In that same season, he was only a tenth of a second behind the world record for the straight 220-yard run, with a time of 20.1 seconds. Strongly built and a "power runner," Hayes was described as looking more like a boxer than a sprinter. One sportswriter commented, "When he ran, he seemed to roll from side to side as he pawed his way down the track." He was one of the heaviest sprinters on the track, weighing over 190 pounds, with broad shoulders and pigeon toes. Still, no matter what his appearance or style, it clearly worked for him. He once told some onlookers who criticized his appearance, "They don't take pictures at the start, only at the finish."

On 17 February 1962 Hayes tied the new world record, set by Frank Budd, at 9.2 seconds for 100 yards––but the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) did not accept the heat because a .22 caliber gun, rather than .32 caliber, was used. In 1963 he beat the world record with a time of 9.1 seconds on an almost windless course in St. Louis. That same year, he tied the world records for the 200 meters and 220-yard (turn course) sprints. He showed the true intensity of his speed in a relay in Hanover, Germany, in 1963, where he made up four yards in his leg of the relay. Later calculations revealed that he had run faster than twenty-six miles per hour that day.

In 1964 he became the first man to break 6 seconds for the indoor sixty yards, with a time of 5.9 seconds. In the same year, at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, he won with a wind-assisted time of 9.9 seconds in the 100-meter semifinal, but in the final, set a legal time of 10.0 seconds and won by two yards, the widest margin in the history of the Olympic 100-meter event. Six days later, in the anchor leg of the 4 × 100-meter relay, he turned a two-meter deficit into a three-meter lead, bringing the U.S. team to a world-record time. It was one of the most impressive performances in the annals of international track competition.

After the Olympics, Hayes signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys and proved to be as outstanding on the football field as he was on the track. A rookie sensation, he soon intimidated opponents with his world-class speed. Zone defenses were created specifically to try to cope with his threat. Speed became a requisite for other National Football League (NFL) receivers. Hayes's average yards per catch was 21.8, he made 50-yard touchdowns at least once a season, and he was an excellent punt returner. He was only the second rookie with a record of more than 1,000 yards receiving.

During his second season, Hayes had a league-best record of thirteen touchdown catches, with a career high 1,232 yards and sixty-four receptions. In his last big season, 1971, he again led the NFL with twenty-four yards per catch and eight touchdowns, and that year the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.

In 1974 Hayes was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, but only stayed with the team for a few months. Troubled times followed, during which his marriage broke up. He had abused drugs and alcohol and served eighteen months in prison for drug trafficking. He underwent rehabilitation for drug and alcohol problems several times and later became involved in programs to discourage young people from using drugs. Some observers have speculated that his troubles began as a result of Hayes's depression about the impending end of his athletic career.

Over Hayes's entire football career, he had 365 catches for 7,414 yards and seventy-one career touchdowns, one of which was a 95-yarder. He still holds team records for season average (20.8 yards) and career average (11.1 yards). He is also the only athlete in history to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. In 2001, the Cowboys inducted Hayes into their Ring of Honor and was elected to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1976. Known as "The Fastest Human in the World," Hayes had a phenomenal career and was a versatile and enormously gifted athlete with great natural speed. Very few have equaled his top performance in two different sports.

Neil Duncanson's The Fastest Men on Earth (1988) has a lengthy chapter on Hayes's entire career, from sprinter to ex–football player, and discusses his running style and personal life. In the 1984 Olympic Handbook (1984), Norman Giller sums up his track achievements. An article in the Detroit News (11 May 2001) describes his football career and announced his induction into the Ring of Honor.

Kelly Winters

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Hayes, Robert ("Bob"; "Bullet")

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