Pro football teams looking for a player to stretch opposing defenses were intrigued by one particular prospect in 1964.
Florida A&M receiver Bob Hayes had competed in the 1964 Olympic Games and won two gold medals.
Hayes then returned to play his senior year for the Rattlers and continued to embarrass anyone attempting to cover him.
A number of AFL and NFL franchises liked the idea of “Bullet Bob” playing football for them, but there were concerns about his ability to succeed in the pro game.
The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on Hayes and he quickly erased any doubts.
During his 11-year career, “The World’s Fastest Human” led the NFL twice in receiving touchdowns, participated in three Pro Bowls, and became the only athlete in league history to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl.
We're recognizing "Bullet” Bob Hayes for winning two gold medals in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, and winning Super Bowl VI with the @dallascowboys in 1972.#BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/8YYY18H42L
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) February 28, 2020
Then, in 2009, Hayes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is his story.
A Star is Born in Jacksonville
Robert Lee Hayes was born on December 20, 1942, in Jacksonville, Florida.
✭ December 20th: We remember the late Cowboys legend “Bullet Bob” Hayes who was born on this day in 1942.
He passed away in 2002 at the age of 59.
Once known as the “World’s Fastest Human”
🥇 🥇 Won 2 Gold Medals at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan pic.twitter.com/D1RD3AYPa8
— Dallas Cowboys Old School (@CowboysOld) December 20, 2022
Hayes’ father served in World War II and returned to the States confined to a wheelchair.
Due to his disability, and the fact that the Hayes’ lived in the segregated South, there wasn’t a lot of work and the family was poor.
Bob Hayes was interested in sports as a youth, but his father discouraged him from participating and tried steering his son to look for more realistic endeavors such as shining shoes.
Before long, Hayes became a runner with speed so fast that his friends called him “the shortest distance between two points.”
Instead of shining shoes, Hayes earned money by placing nickel bets against older kids to see who was the fastest.
Hayes rarely lost.
When he reached middle school, Hayes was still an undiscovered gem until the head football coach at nearby Matthew Gilbert High School saw him in gym class.
Hayes’ class was playing flag football and the other kids couldn’t keep up with him.
“The guys couldn’t get that flag off Bob Hayes’ hip,” Earl Kitchings said in 2009.
After enrolling at Gilbert High School, Hayes migrated toward the track team and competed in several running and jumping events.
— BlackCollegeFootball (@BCFHOF) December 7, 2013
The Gilbert coaches knew he was something special during his first meet when he won seven times including five running events as well as the long and high jumps.
“What he was doing at his age was absolutely incredible,” Hayes’ former track coach, James Day, said. “I had never seen anything like it.”
As his high school years passed it was more and more evident that Hayes was a unique athlete.
His speed was incredible, and more often than not, Hayes was the first athlete across the finish line during track events.
On the gridiron, he played halfback and left defenders in the dust for the Panthers.
The Gilbert High team was so good and so talented that Hayes was a backup, although he still made an impression.
During the 1957 prep season, Hayes and his teammates went undefeated and won the “Black” state championship.
Unfortunately, since the school had colored students the accomplishment of the Panthers’ 1957 team was not celebrated outside the school community.
It wasn’t until nearly a half-century later that the Florida High School Athletic Association recognized the team.
It wasn’t only the Panthers’ football team that was marginalized, the track team didn’t receive their dues either.
#DidYouKnow… "Bullet Bob" Hayes was a Duval native who went to Matthew Gilbert High where he played football & ran track before becoming an Olympian & NFL star. He's the only athlete to win both an Olympic Gold Medal & a Super Bowl Ring.
— James Weldon Johnson Park (@JWJParkJax) February 25, 2022
During one particular 100-meter sprint event, Hayes crossed the finish line in a jaw-dropping 9.5 seconds.
Across town, two athletes at all-White Robert E. Lee High School ran the same event in 9.9 seconds.
Their time was recognized as the new state record despite the fact that Hayes’ time was faster.
Hayes is Accused of a Crime
In today’s highly publicized and highly scrutinized world of high school recruiting, an athlete like Hayes would be sought by every major college program in the nation.
That wasn’t the case in the early 1960s.
There were schools interested in Hayes, but they were predominantly all-Black and he accepted a scholarship with Florida A&M in Tallahassee.
Jake Gaither was the head coach of the Rattlers’ football team and he pulled in some of the best talent in the area.
Jake Gaither served as the head football coach at Florida A&M University from 1945 to 1969, compiling a record of 204–36–4. His won–loss record is among the best of any college football coach.
— BlackCollegeFootball (@BCFHOF) February 2, 2021
Those that knew Gaither loved his motto of finding athletes that were “agile, mobile, and hostile.”
Hayes had the agility and mobility Gaither coveted.
It was the “hostile” part (at least allegedly) that almost did Hayes in before his college career began.
Before the start of fall football practice, Hayes and a classmate were accused of stealing 11 cents and some gum from an A&M student.
The student said that the duo used a water gun to stick him up, but he didn’t know it was a harmless toy.
Hayes declared his innocence but was put in jail for the crime and was on the fast track to losing his scholarship.
However, Gaither spoke to both Hayes and his father to get the details of what happened.
By the time the coach collected the facts, Hayes admitted to signing a false confession to local authorities.
In a last act of desperation, Gaither went before the judge and pleaded for leniency.
“If you give me this boy for four years,” Gaither said, “I guarantee you he won’t get in trouble, and he’ll make you proud of him.”
Thankfully, the judge believed Gaither’s intentions and released Hayes with 10 years probation.
The “Bullet” Leads A&M
When Hayes enrolled at Florida A&M he intended to leave track behind him and concentrate on football.
That notion ended when Rattlers’ track coach Pete Griffin watched Hayes during football practice.
“I went to [Florida A&M] to play football, nothing else,” Hayes said. “But after practice every day, we’d run wind sprints and I’d be beating everybody, even the upperclassmen.”
Griffin asked Hayes to join the school’s track team but Hayes declined.
#HBCUrbanLegend 'Bullet' Bob Hayes once ran a sub-10 second 100 meter dash in workboots at Florida A&M track practice.
— Jarrett Carter Sr. (@jarrettcartersr) April 27, 2010
The track team competed on the weekends and Hayes wanted to go home on the weekends to see his friends and family.
Griffin didn’t let up and finally pestered Hayes into joining his team.
Over the next few years, Hayes never lost a race and set several world records.
He gained national attention in 1962 when organizers for a meet at the University of Miami invited Hayes to compete despite protests from White schools.
Using an official timing system that was relatively new, Hayes won the race with his 9.2 mark, striking awe amongst those in attendance.
Meanwhile, the newly christened “Bullet Bob” Hayes was starring on the gridiron as well.
— Devin Rispress (@Coach2Bless) July 1, 2022
Gaither’s teams had always been competitive, but they were even more lethal with Hayes.
From 1961-1963, the Rattlers went 27-3 and played in the Orange Blossom Classic, known unofficially as the “Black National Championship.”
During the 1963 season alone, Hayes caught 15 passes for 401 yards and ran the ball 55 times for 260 yards, and led the program with 11 touchdowns.
President Johnson Makes a Case for Hayes
Hayes’ record-setting 100-yard dash time in 1963 qualified him for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
It was a given that Hayes would compete for the United States.
The only problem was that the Games would be held in October, meaning that Hayes would miss part of his senior season for the Rattlers.
Gaither intended to have Hayes play until he had to report for his Olympic travels and competition.
However, knowing how crucial Hayes was for the Olympic sprint team, then-president Lyndon Johnson called Gaither with a concern.
“President Johnson said, ‘We need Bob Hayes and if he plays football this year he just might get hurt, and if he gets hurt we’ll be out of a gold medal,’” recalled Hayes in 2002. “Jake Gaither said, ‘Mr. President, let me tell you something. I carried this boy for four years. I know. I guarantee he won’t get hurt.’ The president said, ‘Well, how can you guarantee me this?’ He said, ‘Cause Bob Hayes, he’s a football player. He just happens to be the world’s fastest human.’”
The president still wasn’t convinced and pressed Gaither again to let Hayes train with the Olympic team instead of playing football.
(4/10)After finishing high school, Hayes took his talents to HBCU Florida A&M where he continued to excel in Football and Track. He was selected to represent the USA team for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo with the help of then US president Lyndon B. Johnson. pic.twitter.com/keW6c3cFJx
— Beauhemian Sports (@BeauhemianSport) July 31, 2021
Seeing the writing on the wall, Gaither finally relented.
“You can go run in the Olympics, but you’re going to have to earn your spot when you get back,” Gaither told Hayes.
1964 Olympic Games
Having never lost a race in college at that point, Hayes was the favorite to win his two events in the 100-meter dash and the 4×100-meter relay.
International runners scoffed at the notion and believed they would prevail.
Then, while warming up for the 100-meter event, Hayes broke one of his shoes and had to borrow a replacement from a teammate.
With mismatched shoes on his feet, Hayes then saw he was assigned to Lane 1 of the race which had been mangled during an earlier event.
That brought protests from the U.S. team but Hayes waved them off.
In less-than-ideal conditions, Hayes won the event and tied the world record in 10.06 seconds.
#OTD Oct 15, 1964: “Bullet” Bob Hayes wins a gold medal for the 100m dash in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo with a time of 10 seconds, equaling the world record.#History #Olympics pic.twitter.com/kGFAD4Y9lI
— Jazz the Professor (@LikeButta3) October 15, 2021
It remains the fastest time on a cinder track.
With one gold medal down, Hayes wanted a second one in the relay event.
Before the competition, an athlete from the French team turned to one of the U.S. competitors and sneered.
“You can’t win. All you have is Bob Hayes.”
Initially, the comment appeared correct as the U.S. team got off to a poor start.
By the time Hayes received the baton for the anchor leg of the race, the U.S. was in fifth place and the French team was leading.
That’s when “Bullet Bob” became a legend.
“I wasn’t being cocky, but I just knew we were America and those Russians [who were also competing], they weren’t going to beat us,” Hayes said. “I told my teammates just give it to me close and we’ll win this race. Just give it to me close and I’ll do the rest.”
Hayes split time during his leg was 8.6 seconds.
“The most astonishing sprint of all time,” the Los Angeles Times called it in 1984.
Hayes walked over to the French competitor and reminded him of his pre-race comment then added a witty retort, “That’s all we need, baby!”
Hayes Finishes His Senior Year
After winning two gold medals at the Olympic Games, Hayes returned home with the national spotlight shining brightly on him.
However, when he reported for practice, Hayes’ teammates didn’t like all the attention he was getting.
The attitude of his players rubbed Gaither the wrong way and he let his charges have it.
“You boys should be proud to have Bob Hayes as a member of the team. I heard some of you call him ‘Hollywood’ because he gets so much exposure. If you guys are jealous of Bobby Hayes, I know how every one of you can get as much publicity as Bob does.”
When the team asked Gaither how they could get the accolades Hayes did, the coach responded with a challenge.
“Well, you only have to do one thing,” Gaither said. “Outrun him.”
Hayes had no problem earning his starting spot back and helped the Rattlers to a 9-1 record and another appearance in the Orange Blossom Classic.
In January of 1965, Hayes was invited to play in the Senior Bowl as one of the original Black athletes to compete in the annual game.
Hayes was named the South team’s MVP.
Hayes Becomes a Dallas Cowboy
In the 1964 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Hayes with the 88th overall pick in the seventh round.
Since Hayes still had a year of college left, the pick was considered a “future” selection.
✭ December 8th 1964:
Cowboys GM Tex Schramm signs “Bullet” Bob Hayes to his rookie contract. Hayes was a 7th round 88th overall future pick in the 1964 NFL draft out of Florida A&M. His signing bonus included a $6000 dollar Buick Rivera.#60sCowboys #BobHayes @Gil_Brandt pic.twitter.com/2H7vhpZwvj
— Dallas Cowboys Old School (@CowboysOld) December 9, 2022
The Denver Broncos also used a “future” selection on Hayes with the 105th overall pick in the 14th round of the 1964 AFL Draft.
Both selections were scoffed by the national media as well as by rival teams.
Long before Hayes was selected, NFL teams had drafted former track stars and Olympians with the idea of turning them into players (teams still continue this practice today).
Coach Gaither read what the press had to say about Hayes’ ability to make it in the pros and scoffed right back.
“Hayes is a football player first,” Gaither said, “and a track star second.”
Gaither further elaborated that Hayes’ first love was football.
“Shucks, if he had to choose one or the other he’d have chucked his track shoes out the window,” Gaither continued.
Then-Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm sided with Gaither.
“We think he’s a great football prospect,” said Schramm. “He’s different from other track men who have attempted to play football, in that he has the natural moves and instincts of a football player. He has very, very good hands—he catches the ball surely and with ease. His only weakness that we know of is his inexperience, and with his tremendous natural abilities that shouldn’t be a handicap for very long.”
Hayes agreed with Schramm while also reiterating his belief in his football skills.
“Oh, I know I’ve got an awful lot to learn,” Hayes said, “but I love this game. I don’t have to learn what it feels like to get hit. I know the importance of following my blockers. Maybe I don’t know the fakes now, but I sure know you gotta have them, and that’s more than most pure sprinters know. I’ve studied all the good flankers, and I think I can catch a ball with any of them, and I’m faster.”
Hayes Proves the Skeptics Wrong
Sure enough, Hayes proved the skeptics were way off about his skills when he started every game as a rookie.
Furthermore, in Hayes’ first two seasons with the Cowboys, he had a combined 110 receptions.
Hayes led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 1965 with 12 (a franchise record along with another franchise record of 13 total scores).
He had another league-leading 13 touchdowns in 1966.
Whether you called him "The World's Fastest Man" or "Bullet Bob", there was never any debating the greatness of Bob Hayes, the only man to have won a Super Bowl ring AND an Olympic gold medal.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) September 18, 2022
His 46 receptions and 1,003 receiving yards in 1965 made Hayes the only rookie in franchise history to lead the team in both categories.
Hayes was also the first Cowboy to tally 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.
He was used on special teams and had over 700 combined kick and punt return yards in his first two years.
By then, opposing teams realized that no one could hang with Hayes in man-to-man coverage and began deploying double coverage and a relatively new zone defense.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) August 9, 2018
At one point, the New York Giants signed former Olympic 200-meter sprinter Henry Carr primarily so Carr could cover Hayes during games.
The move didn’t work as the Giants failed to realize that Hayes had destroyed Carr in the 200-meter Olympic trials a few years earlier.
“He changed the game because of his speed,” Hall of Fame coach Don Shula said. “He wasn’t just the world’s fastest human, he was a great athlete and football player. Put that together, and he made you change everything on your defense when you played the Cowboys.”
Hayes continued catching footballs in 1966 and 1967, totaling 49 receptions in ‘66 and 53 in ‘67.
“It was like he was melting, he was so fast,” said fellow receiver Frank Clarke.
He also had over 1,800 combined receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, led the NFL in punt return yards (276) and punt return scores (1) in 1967, and led the league in punt return scores (2) in 1968.
— W.W. McClyde (@WWMcClyde) August 28, 2019
In each of his first three seasons, Hayes was voted to the Pro Bowl by his peers.
He was also named an All-Pro three times between 1966 and 1968.
Dallas Reaches Super Bowl V
While Hayes was torching opposing secondaries, the Cowboys played in back-to-back NFL Championships in 1966 and 1967, losing both.
In 1969, former Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach joined the team and found throwing to Hayes a difficult task.
“Bob Hayes was as fast as he needed to be,” said Staubach. “There were times when I felt like I had overthrown him and he would find another gear and go get it.”
As the two continued to connect over the next few years, Staubach continued to be amazed at his teammate’s speed.
“…no one, unless they saw Bob run, can fathom how fast this guy was … if he had one step on a defensive back, it was all over. There was no hope,” Staubach said.
In 1970, Dallas reached the franchise’s first Super Bowl after a 10-4 season and victories over Detroit and San Francisco in the playoffs.
That same year, Hayes had 34 receptions for 889 yards and 10 scores and led the NFL with a mark of 26.1 yards per reception.
“Old Days”Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys Players watch as the Colts Jim O’Briens Game winning FG sails through the uprights in Super Bowl V at the Orange Bowl in 1971.#Colts #Baltimore #Cowboys #Dallas #SuperBowl #NFL #1970s pic.twitter.com/mWWRp919Qg
— Tom's Old Days (@sigg20) May 27, 2023
During Super Bowl V, Hayes caught a 41-yard bomb from quarterback Craig Morton, but the ‘Boys lost to Baltimore, 16-13.
Hayes Becomes Immortal
In 1971, Hayes was in his seventh year as a pro and showed no signs of slowing down.
He had 35 catches for 840 yards and eight scores while leading the NFL again in yards per reception with 24.0.
Dallas leaned on Staubach and the quarterback took the Cowboys to an 11-3 record and wins over Minnesota and San Francisco in the playoffs.
Then, in Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins, Hayes didn’t catch a single pass, but he rushed once for 16 yards.
Staubach won game MVP honors by leading Dallas to a resounding 24-3 win.
#OTD in 1964, Hall of Famer Bob Hayes ran what was at the time the fastest 100 Meters in history (9.9 seconds), en route to winning two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
"Bullet Bob" remains the only person to have ever won both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl. pic.twitter.com/2Rpogc3F0Q
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) October 15, 2022
The victory made Hayes the first (and still only) player in NFL history to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl.
“I was so proud for him when that game was over and he got to hold that trophy,” Day [Hayes high school track coach] said, “and I think it was big for the young African-American population of Jacksonville for one of their own to be on top of the world.”
“Bullet” Runs Out of Gas and is Traded
After experiencing such an amazing high, Hayes was laid low by injury in 1972 and started only five games.
In 1973, he started 13 games and caught 22 passes for over 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Dez now holds the all time Cowboys TD record. But big respect to “Bullet” Bob Hayes who held that record a long time. Great great player and Olympic Gold medal winner. pic.twitter.com/QzHi0R63H3
— Gary (@Gman5711) December 1, 2017
Then, in 1974, he was mostly used as a decoy and served as a backup player, tallying zero starts, seven catches, 118 yards, and one score.
Before the 1975 season, Hayes was traded to the San Francisco 49ers.
Having slowed considerably, Hayes lasted four games with the Niners and had six receptions for 119 yards before the team released him in October.
With his best years far behind him, Hayes retired.
In his career, Hayes caught 371 passes for 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns.
He also added 68 rushing yards and two scores, 1,158 punt return yards and three return scores, and 581 kick return yards.
Hayes was a three-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, a Super Bowl champion, and led the NFL twice in receiving touchdowns.
He was added to the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2001.
Legal Troubles After Retirement
Hayes’ sports accomplishments should have inundated him with countless financial and endorsement opportunities after retirement.
Instead, he was enticed by drugs and was caught selling to an undercover police officer in 1976.
His punishment was a 10-month stint in jail.
By the mid-1990s, Hayes had returned to Florida to live with his parents and was still hooked on drugs and alcohol.
In an effort to try and kick his bad habits, Hayes went to rehab three times.
While Hayes tried to tame his demons, the Pro Football Hall of Fame rejected him due to his drug and alcohol use.
The slight only motivated his former teammates and coaches to push harder for his acceptance into the Hall.
“He redefined what the position was all about,” former teammate and NFL coach Mike Ditka said. “We need to get him in the Hall of Fame.”
Hayes Passes Away
By 2001, Hayes’ health continued to worsen due to kidney and liver problems and a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Despite his poor health, Hayes obtained his college degree when he was 51 and traveled to Florida A&M often to watch Rattler football games and meet with old friends.
Then, on September 18, 2002, Hayes died from his ailments.
“Bullet Bob” Hayes (b. 1942 d. 2002) pic.twitter.com/aMntmySz0X
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) December 20, 2022
He was 59 years old.
In his memory, friends and family started The Bob Hayes Invitational, a track meet held every year in north Florida.
Meanwhile, the effort to get Hayes elected posthumously to the Hall of Fame kept taking a wrong turn.
In 2004 he came close to induction but did not get in, leading Sports Illustrated writer and Hall voter Paul Zimmerman to resign from his position in protest.
Finally, in 2009, Hayes was selected as a senior candidate for the Hall of Fame and became the second Olympic gold medalist after Jim Thorpe to be inducted.
Remembering Bob Hayes who was born on this day in 1942.
💯 “Bullet Bob”
🏆 Only the 2nd Gold Medalist to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after Jim Thorpe.
— JVAN (@VanderlansJim) December 20, 2020
During the ceremonies, Hayes’ son, Bob Jr., read his late father’s induction speech.
“In his last days he used to talk about the Hall of Fame,” said Hayes Jr. “It hurts because he should have been here to witness this special occasion. But, unfortunately, he didn’t make it to see it. I know wherever he is, he’s smiling down. He’s happy. He knows what’s going on. And he’ll be with us in our spirits, in our hearts, and our minds.”
In addition to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Hayes has been added to the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Hall of Fame, the Florida A&M University Sports Hall of Fame, and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.