Hayes, Robert Lee [Bob] (1942–2002)

By: Martin Donell Kohout

Type: Biography

Published: September 11, 2007

Robert Lee (Bob) Hayes, the only man to win both an Olympic Gold Medal and a Super Bowl championship ring, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on December 20, 1942. He played football, baseball, and basketball at Gilbert High School. At Florida A&M University he played football and ran track, and was drafted as a junior by both the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, with whom he eventually signed, and the Denver Broncos of the rival American Football League. Hayes went to the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo having won forty-eight consecutive races. He won two gold medals in Tokyo, setting a world record of 10.0 seconds in the 100-meter dash despite wearing a borrowed left shoe and running the anchor leg of the record-setting 400-meter relay. Back in the United States, "the world's fastest human" became the first African American to play in the Senior Bowl, a college football all-star game in Mobile, Alabama, in which he was named the most valuable player on the South team.

Hayes, nicknamed "Bullet" for his blinding speed, joined the Cowboys in 1965 and was an instant sensation in the NFL. "He changed the game with his speed," Hall of Fame coach Don Shula said of Hayes. "It was very frightening to be out there with him," admitted Larry Wilson, a Hall of Fame defensive back who faced Hayes many times. Roger Staubach, for years Hayes's quarterback in Dallas, said, "You know if he had one step on a defensive back, it was all over. There was no hope."

In 1965, Hayes set Cowboy rookie records with 46 catches, 1003 yards, and 12 touchdowns and was named to the first of three consecutive Pro Bowls. He was even better in 1966, catching 64 passes for 1232 yards and an NFL-best 13 touchdowns; against the Washington Redskins he set team records for the most yards receiving in one game (246) and on one play (95). Hayes led the league in punt returns in 1968, and helped the Cowboys win their first Super Bowl following the 1971 season.

But that season was his last as a dominant receiver. In the next three years Hayes caught only 44 passes and scored only four touchdowns, and before the 1975 season the Cowboys traded him to the San Francisco 49ers. He left Dallas as the team's alltime leading receiver with 365 catches, 7295 yards, and 71 touchdowns. He played in only four games in his only season with the 49ers and then retired from pro football.

The ensuing years were difficult for Hayes, an admitted alcoholic and drug user. In 1979 he pled guilty to three charges of delivering narcotics to an undercover police officer in Addison, a Dallas suburb, and was sentenced to two concurrent five-year terms in federal prison. He was paroled after serving ten months, and his conviction was later overturned. After Hayes's release from prison, his ex-teammate Staubach paid for his five-month stay in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, and for a time employed Hayes as a maintenance man at several apartment complexes he owned. Hayes also worked in the sports agent business in the late 1980s. Many remain convinced that his personal and legal problems are the only reason Hayes was not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hayes published an autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run: The Rise, Fall, and Recovery of Bob Hayes, cowritten with Robert Pack, in 1990. He returned to Jacksonville to live with his parents in the early 1990s and in 1993 received a degree in special education from Florida A&M. In 2001 he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous prostate and suffered liver and kidney failure. In September of that year he became the eleventh member of the Cowboys' Ring of Honor, and he was also a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the Florida A&M Hall of Fame, and the Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame. Hayes was married twice and had five children. He died of kidney failure on September 18, 2002, in Jacksonville and was buried in that city's Edgewood Cemetery.

Dallas Morning News, September 20, 2002. USA Today, September 20, 2002.
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • Sports (Track and Field)
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martin Donell Kohout, “Hayes, Robert Lee [Bob],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hayes-robert-lee-bob.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 11, 2007

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