Hart Lee Dykes could have been one of the best wide receivers in New England Patriots history.
He could have been mentioned in the same breath as Julian Edelman, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Stanley Morgan, and Troy Brown.
Instead, Dykes became one of the biggest disappointments in the Pats’ storied 63-year team history.
He played just two seasons for New England before a series of knee injuries forced him to retire from the National Football League when he was just 28 years old in 1994.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Dykes, a highly-touted wide receiver who blossomed into a Consensus All-American wide receiver for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Pats Nation can only wonder what would have happened had Hart Lee Dykes not dealt with those unfortunate injuries that ended his once-promising gridiron career.
Hart Lee Dykes, Jr. was born in Bay City, TX on September 2, 1966.
As a youngster, Dykes played pee wee football and Little League baseball in Texas.
Dykes attended Bay City High School in his hometown. He excelled in track, basketball, and football for the Bay City Blackcats.
Dykes helped the Blackcats win Texas 5A titles in football in 1983, track in 1984, and basketball in 1985.
Dykes played on both sides of the ball in his senior season with the Blackcats under head football coach Ron Mills. He had 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 42 receptions as a receiver.
On the other side, he had eight interceptions, two pick-sixes, and seven fumble recoveries on defense.
— Joe Gleason (@joeagleason) January 15, 2022
By the time Dykes’ high school football career wound down, countless football programs rang him up at his home. It came to a point that Dykes almost stopped answering his phone altogether.
According to The Oklahoman’s Tom Kensler, Dykes’ photo spread on the December 21 issue of Sports Illustrated, which stated he was the best offensive threat in the country, sparked the endless stream of phone calls to his house.
Dykes eventually whittled down his shortlist to the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Illinois Fighting Illini. He ultimately chose the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State recruiting coordinator Willie Anderson told Dykes that he would set off a maelstrom of emotions if he snubbed a national title contender and left the state of Texas, per Kensler.
Anderson and the other Oklahoma State recruiters also reminded Dykes not to let pressure from his family and peers in Texas get to him.
Hart Lee Dykes left the Lone Star State and strutted his wares north in Stillwater, OK where he became one of the most exciting pro football prospects the Oklahoma State Cowboys had ever produced.
College Days With The Oklahoma State Cowboys
Hart Lee Dykes attended Oklahoma State University from 1985 to 1988. He suited up for Oklahoma State Cowboys head football coach Pat Jones.
Prior to committing to the Cowboys, Dykes visited the OSU campus with his brother, Todd. Hart Lee also visited Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. He had leaned toward the Texas A&M Aggies at one point but decided to play for the Cowboys instead.
Willie Anderson’s prediction came true. After Dykes committed to OSU on national signing day on February 13, 1985, radio stations in Texas and Oklahoma speculated about how OSU fleeced the other football programs that wanted him so badly.
For their part, both Jones and Anderson told The Oklahoman six months after they signed Dykes that they followed the recruiting rules and never cut corners. Dykes agreed with their claims.
“They have no reason to blow the whistle at me,” Dykes told Kensler in the summer of 1985. “Nothing went on illegal in my recruiting. Not from any school. I try to ignore the talk.”
Dykes’ high school football coach Ron Mills was surprised at his protege’s decision to commit to OSU. Mills, who thought Dykes would suit up for the ‘Fighting Illini or Aggies, felt that his former player didn’t seriously consider OSU to begin with, per The Oklahoman.
It turned out Dykes felt more comfortable with the Cowboys’ run-oriented offense rather than the Fighting Illini’s focus on the passing game. He eventually settled in at Oklahoma State and had no regrets about his decision.
Dykes, who had an above-average 90 mph fastball, revealed to The Oklahoman in the summer of 1985 that Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals tried to draft him. However, Dykes told both baseball teams that he was going to play football instead.
Dykes ultimately chose the brutality of the gridiron over the finesse of the baseball diamond.
“I’ve always enjoyed the excitement and contact of football,” Dykes told Kensler during his true freshman season in 1985.
That early, Dykes already looked up to Cowboys sophomore running back Thurman Thomas, who he had several battles with during their days in Texas high school football. Dykes eventually considered Thomas his best friend in college.
Thomas eventually became a Hall of Famer after an outstanding 13-year NFL career – mostly with the Buffalo Bills.
The Cowboys won an average of nine games per year from 1985 to 1988 with Dykes at wideout.
Dykes, who played with legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders on that 1988 Oklahoma State Cowboys team, had 1,278 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 74 receptions as a senior.
The Cowboys duplicated their impressive 10-2 win-loss record from the previous season. Oklahoma State won back-to-back bowl games in 1987 and 1988 just as Dykes’ college football career was winding down.
The 11th-ranked Cowboys beat the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 1987 Sun Bowl, 35-33. 12th-ranked Oklahoma State routed the 15th-ranked Wyoming Cowboys in the 1988 Holiday Bowl the following year, 62-14.
Unfortunately, Hart Lee Dykes ended his four-year tenure in Stillwater, OK on a sour note.
According to The Los Angeles Times’ Danny Robbins, various reports claimed that Dykes received immunity from eligibility sanctions from the NCAA for testifying against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas A&M Aggies, and Illinois Fighting Illini – the four programs that wanted him badly prior to his freshman season.
The reports surfaced several days after the Cowboys’ resounding victory over the Wyoming Cowboys in the 1988 Holiday Bowl.
It turned out an OSU assistant coach gave Hart Lee Dykes monthly payments that added up to $5,000 and a car to convince him to sign with the Cowboys in 1985.
In Dykes’ testimony to the NCAA, he identified former OSU recruiting coordinator Willie Anderson and several boosters as the perpetrators, per The Los Angeles Times.
Oklahoma State fired Anderson in 1986.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys football program received four-year probation in 1989 – Dykes’ rookie season in the National Football League.
That probation included no bowl games for three seasons, no televised games for two seasons, and fewer scholarships. The sanction sent OSU’s football program reeling. The Cowboys mustered just one winning season from 1989 to 2001.
On the other hand, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Illinois also received probation for allegedly recruiting Dykes illegally.
“Hart Lee is making kind of a mockery of the NCAA system,” former NCAA investigator Ron Watson told Robbins in January 1989. “He played while everyone knows he received extra benefits that no other athlete should be able to receive.”
Hart Lee Dykes. Mr. "Let's see how many different schools I can get put on Probation". 😉 pic.twitter.com/USSElXDTVu
— Joby Focke (@CoachFocke) June 9, 2019
Hart Lee Dykes, a 1988 Consensus All-American, had 3,275 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns on 211 receptions for the Oklahoma State Cowboys from 1985 to 1988.
Dykes told Tulsa World some twenty-three years later that it’s unfortunate Cowboys fans talk more about his tainted legacy in Stillwater, OK than the hard work he put in on the gridiron.
“I think I laid a lot of sweat and tears for OSU,” Dykes told the publication (via The Daily O’Collegian’s Cody Stavenhagen). “For it to be overshadowed and covered up, I don’t agree with that.”
Dykes also told Stavenhagen that people overlook the fact that he thrived in Jones’ run-oriented offense. The Cowboys relied heavily on running backs Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders during Dykes’ four-year tenure in Stillwater, OK.
Dykes felt he would not have put up similar gaudy numbers had he played in a four-receiver set.
While the controversial Hart Lee Dykes electrified Oklahoma State Cowboys fans on the college gridiron, he disappointed New England Patriots fans when he entered the professional football ranks.
Pro Football Career
The New England Patriots made Hart Lee Dykes the 16th overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft.
After Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals tried unsuccessfully to lure Dykes to the baseball diamond in 1985, the Chicago White Sox were close to obtaining his services three months after the Patriots drafted him.
According to The New York Times (via PistolsFiringBlog.com’s Kyle Porter), Dykes agreed to a minor-league deal with the White Sox in July 1989. They made him the 1,300th overall selection of the 1988 MLB Draft while he was a junior wide receiver with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
White Sox director of player development Al Goldis thought Dykes had a mean fastball and a great upside. Dykes had a 2-0 record and 5.43 ERA in seven games for the OSU baseball team following his junior campaign in Stillwater, OK.
Once again, Hart Lee Dykes chose the brutality of football over baseball. He signed a four-year deal worth approximately $2.25 million with New England, per The Oklahoman (via PistolsFiringBlog.com).
On this date in the 1989 NFL Draft, with the first overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys select UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman. Meanwhile back in New England with the 16th pick, Hart Lee Dykes, yuck.
— Honest☘️Larry (@HonestLarry1) April 23, 2022
Dykes got off to a decent start in his NFL career. He had 795 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 49 receptions as a rookie in the 1989 NFL campaign.
New England won just five games in Raymond Berry’s final season as head coach. Consequently, the Patriots missed the postseason for the third straight year.
Dykes made headlines for the wrong reasons in his second NFL season.
Dykes and his fellow New England Patriots wide receiver Irving Fryar claimed several assailants attacked them from behind while they hung out at Club Shalamar in Providence, RI on October 11, 1990.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that Fryar retrieved a 9mm handgun from his car in the parking lot. When he returned to the club, he pointed the gun at several patrons who scattered in different directions hysterically.
Providence, RI authorities charged Fryar with carrying a gun without a permit. Unfortunately, police ruled Fryar’s Massachusetts gun permit ineligible for the nightclub incident.
They eventually released him on $10,000 personal recognizance.
As for Dykes, the suspects allegedly hit him on the back of his head with an unidentified object. He needed three stitches to treat the wound. Doctors also discovered Dykes had a swollen eye.
Hart Lee Dykes had to miss the Patriots’ final six games of their forgettable 1990 NFL campaign. New England head coach Rod Rust lasted just one season after the Patriots mustered a solitary win at the start of the 1990s decade.
It was New England’s worst start in ten seasons. The Patriots won just two games in the 1991 NFL season under head coach Ron Erhardt.
Dykes had 549 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 34 receptions for the new Patriots prior to his head injury.
Hart Lee Dykes’ fall from grace continued during the 1991 NFL season. In a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, Dykes ran a hitch pattern, jumped, and broke his kneecap.
The injury was worse than Dykes thought – it forced him to sit out the entire 1991 NFL campaign.
Another great @BCISD Bay City Blackcat besides LaBradford, Fletcher & Deloach was Hart Lee Dykes! He was the ‘84 USA Today Athlete of the year & 1st round draft pick out of @okstate! He set some records at @okstate with @CoachGundy, @thurmanthomas & @BarrySanders! pic.twitter.com/iUAtxjaflb
— Kole Kopnicky (@drkolekop) April 5, 2020
Fast forward several months later to the Patriots’ spring training – Dykes felt like a new man. He didn’t feel any trace of the knee injury that cost him his third pro football season. It seemed he was primed for a breakthrough 1992 NFL season.
Dykes’ optimism didn’t last long. When he threw several passes to some of the Patriots’ tight ends in training camp, his kneecap broke again.
Another season went down the drain for Dykes. He didn’t play a single down in the 1992 NFL campaign.
Less than a year later, it seemed Dykes was finally ready to make up for lost time. Regrettably, he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament while running a route in preparation for training camp.
Dykes cut to his left and fell to the gridiron in agony. He told Sports Illustrated’s Leigh Montville in the fall of 1993 that he initially thought it was just a superficial injury.
When Dykes’ doctors told him it was a more serious ACL injury, he was at a loss for words. Dykes, who had never had any serious injuries in high school and college, was dumbstruck. He rang up his mother after he received the bad news.
When Hart Lee Dykes discovered he had an ACL injury, he thought about his best friend in college, running back Thurman Thomas.
Dykes recalled Thomas having a similar injury with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, the former told Sports Illustrated in 1993 that he didn’t recall anything about Thomas’ rehab process.
Montville saw first-hand how Dykes coped with his seemingly never-ending assortment of injuries. After Dykes played out his rookie contract with the Patriots, Montville saw him wearing sandbags on his left shin and doing rehab work on his torn ACL in his Sugar Land, TX residence in the fall of 1993.
Dykes spent most of those weekends watching football on television for at least twelve or thirteen hours a day. While Dykes got his football fix, he wore a brace on his left leg, which was parallel to the floor. He placed a cane on the side of his chair.
Before long, Dykes’ garage couldn’t accommodate his numerous braces and crutches any longer. He had to dispose of them and replace them with new ones.
Hart Lee Dykes retired from the National Football League in the summer of 1994. He told his friends and family members he had given up any hope of coming back from the knee injuries he sustained during his short-lived pro football career.
“I never really announced anything, but I definitely retired,” Dykes told The Associated Press (via TulsaWorld.com) in February 1995.
Dykes’ agent, Michael Kevorkian, noticed his client was a typical football player when he first reached out to him in 1989 – the gridiron was his top priority.
When Dykes battled several injuries during his pro football career, Kevorkian noticed he had changed for the better.
For instance, Dykes once had to cut one of their phone conversations short because he had to rush to Home Depot to run some errands.
Kevorkian couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He laughed it off several weeks afterward.
Hart Lee Dykes had 1,344 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 83 receptions in two seasons with the New England Patriots from 1989 to 1990.
Hart Lee Dykes and his family currently reside in the Houston, TX area. Dykes’ 28-year-old son Jalen was a former high school wide receiver.
Dykes invested in a freight company following his retirement from the NFL in 1994, per The Associated Press (via TulsaWorld.com).
Dykes initially took exception to the lack of recognition he received from the Oklahoma State football program and its fan base following his controversial tenure in Stillwater, OK from 1985 to 1988.
However, he softened his stance after his mother passed away in 2007. Although other players of less caliber have had their jerseys retired or become members of the OSU Hall of Fame, he has learned to accept his fate over the years.
— travalicious71 (@travalicious71) April 4, 2020
Dykes told The Daily O’Collegian in 2013 that he has remained close with Mike Gundy, his former OSU quarterback and current head football coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Dykes told SI.com’s Robert Allen on his radio show that he and his wife had COVID-19 in the summer of 2020.
“For two days, it was death, man,” Dykes told Allen. “I was just miserable.”
Dykes felt pain in his entire body during the two-day ordeal. When he breathed deeply, he could tell his body was not in its normal, healthy state.
Dykes was hopeful sports would resume soon after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. He told Allen he felt bored if he couldn’t watch any sporting events.