Now that Bob Hayes is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, people hearing his story for the first time are going to wonder what took so long.
After all, he changed the game.
Hayes brought a new kind of speed to pro football: Olympic gold-medal speed. "Bullet Bob" won two of them in 1964, tying the world record in the 100 meters and running one of the greatest anchor legs ever seen to bring the United States from far behind in the 400-meter relay.
He joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1965 and showed what he could do right away. In a preseason game, quarterback Jerry Rhome overthrew everyone, or, at least, so it seemed, until Hayes swooped in and caught the ball. Immediately promoted to the starting lineup for the opener, Hayes scored touchdowns on three of his first four catches.
That rookie year, Hayes led the league in touchdowns and became Dallas' first 1,000-yard receiver. The next year, he led the league in TDs again and cracked 1,200 yards, a team record that stood for 25 years. The Cowboys also won their division for the first time.
Hayes went on to lead the NFL in yards per catch in 1970, the year the Cowboys went to their first Super Bowl, and again in '71, when Dallas won it all for the first time. That made him the first person to win Olympic gold and a Super Bowl; he's still the only one.
"This guy revolutionized the passing game and forced them to come up with the zone defense, just like Wilt Chamberlain forced them to change certain rules in basketball," Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley said.
Hayes was a huge threat no matter who was throwing him the ball. He caught a 95-yard touchdown pass from Don Meredith, an 89-yarder from Craig Morton and an 85-yarder from Roger Staubach.
The same day he notched the club-record 95-yarder, Hayes also scored from 52 yards out. He finished that game with 246 yards, another club record.
"He could always just hit another gear and no one could beat him," said Staubach, a Hall of Famer himself. "Quarterbacks get used to wide receivers because they're pretty similar, but Bob was crazy-fast. You had to learn to get rid of it a lot quicker because his speed was so different than everybody else. ... You thought you'd overthrew him and he'd run under it like he had to slow down."
He was a heck of a punt returner, too.
Hayes led the league in total punt-return yardage in 1967 and in yards per punt return in 1968. His average that season was 20.8; nobody has come within 2 yards since.
To put Hayes' career in modern terms, consider this: Over 11 years, he averaged more yards per punt return than Deion Sanders, more yards per catch than Randy Moss, scored more touchdowns than Michael Irvin and averaged a touchdown every 5.2 catches, compared to every 6.8 catches for Terrell Owens and every 7.9 for Jerry Rice.
And, get this _ stats were a lot harder to come by in his era.
"You didn't throw the ball 45 times per game back then and receivers could get hit anywhere down the field," Staubach said. "That was the thing with Bob. They knew they couldn't catch him, so they were trying hit him."
It makes you wonder what Hayes would've been like with today's rules.
"Oh, my goodness," said Adderley, who went head-to-head with Hayes while playing for Green Bay, then became his close friend as teammates in Dallas. "I don't know how they'd cover him unless they used two or three guys."
So, back to the original point: Why did it take 29 years after Hayes became eligible _ and seven years after he died at age 59 _ for the "Bullet" to finally land in Canton?
Well, in 1979, just before he went on the ballot for the first time, Hayes pleaded guilty to delivering narcotics to an undercover police officer and spent 10 months behind bars. Although the conviction later was overturned, the damage to his reputation was done.
"That shouldn't have prevented him from being in the Hall of Fame, but I definitely feel it did," Staubach said. "I think most people feel that's the case because the facts are so overwhelming."
Hayes' supporters were really rankled in 1999 when Lawrence Taylor _ who brought a new dimension to the linebacker's spot just like Hayes did to receiver, and also had his share of drug problems _ was elected into the Hall on his first try. Taylor even had the public support of then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"Why did they hold it against Hayes and not other guys?" Adderley said. "He should've been a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones helped revive Hayes' candidacy by putting him into the club's Ring of Honor in 2001. Hayes died a year later, but got another shot at the Hall when the senior committee made him a finalist in 2004. It took a rare second chance from the seniors for him to finally make it this time.
Even after all those years of waiting, the glory didn't last. Controversy returned. The sister who read a letter Hayes wrote in 1999 specifically for this occasion turned out not to be his sister, and there were plenty of questions about the legitimacy of the letter.
On Saturday, however, the ceremony will emphasize the highlights of Hayes' career and life.
Staubach will be his presenter, followed by a video tribute. Bob Hayes Jr. will accept the honor on his father's behalf.
Hayes will join Jim Thorpe as the only Olympic gold medalists in Canton. He'll also be the 11th person inducted primarily for his days with the Cowboys.
"The common denominator about Bob is that he cared about people," Staubach said. "He wanted to put a smile on people's faces. And he was a phenomenal athlete."