The Dallas Cowboys were somewhat untraditional when it came to evaluating talent during the earlier years of the franchise. The club’s front office included General Manager Tex Schramm and head coach Tom Landry, both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Landry and Schramm were also complemented by personnel director Gil Brandt.
The trio scoured the country in search of players who could potentially improve the Cowboys. Dallas recruited, with a fair amount of success, a number of players who were relatively unknown in football circles yet possessed great athletic ability.
Hayes caught 10 or more TDs in five of his first six seasons.
In 1964, the Cowboys pursued a player that wasn’t necessarily unknown on the sports scene but not exactly considered a high prospect when it came to football, especially at the pro level. Nevertheless, that did not deter the Cowboys from using its seventh round pick as a future selection to draft out of Florida A&M.
Hayes had a made a name for himself as a record-setting track star. The holder of multiple world records, Hayes won a gold medal in the 100-meter race at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. His blazing speed earned him the label of “the world’s fastest human.” Yet, there were many doubters about whether Hayes could make the transition to football despite having played at the college level.
A Sport magazine feature on Hayes described the sentiment of most football observers when it stated, “as football players, track men usually make good vases. They are pretty, rather delicate and uniformly useless.”
It didn’t take long for Hayes to convert the naysayers. After a strong showing in the College All-Star game prior to his rookie season, Hayes quickly adapted to the physical play of the NFL.
“He’ll be one of the all-time greats,” stated Cowboys assistant coach Red Hickey following Hayes’s rookie debut.
Almost from the outset of his rookie camp in 1965, Hayes proved that he not only belonged in the NFL but that he would soon change the game. It only took one game for his position coach to predict huge things for Hayes.
“Bullet Bob” made a big impression in his first NFL game, a contest against the New York Giants in front of the largest crowd in Dallas history to that point. Hayes’s first career catch, a 37-yarder, may well have gone for a touchdown had he been more patient. However, Hayes used his natural speed but was tackled by Giants defenders after he outran his own blockers. New York’s defense wasn’t so lucky on the next pass. Hayes snagged the ball on a short pass pattern with just under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. He then put some moves on three Giants defenders and, once in the open, Hayes raced 45 yards for a touchdown. Dallas defeated New York, 31-2.
Soon, Hayes became as well known for his moves as he was for his unmatched speed. The combination of the two made him incredibly lethal. He finished his rookie season with 46 catches for 1,003 yards and scored 12 TDs. Despite finishing just behind fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in the Rookie of the Year voting, Hayes was honored in numerous ways for his first-year achievements. He was named All-Rookie, All-NFL and selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys’ hunch about Hayes proved to be a wise one. Opposing defenses had to alter coverage to compensate for Hayes’s incredible speed. It was that speed that helped him catch 371 passes and score 71 touchdowns during his 11-season career. That speed also was a major contributing factor in him earning a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.