In the early 1980s, the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders were blessed with a potent offense and a suffocating defense.
One of the leaders of the secondary was Lester Hayes.
“The Judge” arrived in Oakland in 1977 and helped lead the franchise to two Super Bowl victories.
John Jefferson. Lester Hayes. Jack Murphy Stadium
Old school football and stickum for the win pic.twitter.com/VArvyPsBqV
— OldTimeHardball (@OleTimeHardball) December 16, 2021
In 1980, Hayes collected the second most interceptions in a single season in NFL history.
Although it has been mentioned that Hayes’s success came solely due to some sticky “assistance” during his near-record-breaking season, teammates, opponents, and coaches have argued otherwise.
This is the story of Lester Hayes.
Growing up in Texas
Lester Craig Hayes was born on January 22, 1955, in Houston, Texas.
Happy birthday to CB Lester Hayes, January 22, 1955.
Super Bowl XV & XVIII champion, 5x Pro Bowler, 1980 All-Pro, 1980 NFL AP Defensive Player of the Year.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) January 22, 2022
While he was still young, Hayes developed a stuttering problem that left him embarrassed and humiliated.
To avoid bullying, Hayes rarely spoke and preferred to let his athleticism and fists do most of the talking.
Hayes grew up in the 5th Ward area of Houston, and to put it mildly, his neighborhood was a training ground for survival.
“It was a very tough neighborhood, but the mentality I grew up with, we didn’t understand what poor was,” Hayes said. “I remember games where we played football, 70 guys against 70 guys. I would say most guys had a blackjack in their socks, or a knife in their pocket or a gun in their underwear. I’ve seen guys get shot before football games.”
Once he arrived at Wheatley High School, Hayes was adept at three sports: football, basketball, and track.
On the basketball court, Hayes was a tough defender, and his high school coach believes Hayes could have been an All-American.
“The only reason Lester wasn’t an All-American basketball player is he played football,” said Hayes’ high school coach, Jackie Carr. “He might have been the only boy in school who could make my team coming off football. He’d be two months behind. Coming off football, you couldn’t hardly make my team.”
Recruited by Accident
On the gridiron, Hayes was an afterthought as a defensive end.
It was only by accident that coaches from Texas A&M happened to spot Hayes while recruiting players for an opposing team.
“Before the game was over, I said, ‘Forget about those other two players, look at that defensive end.’ Lester was flying all over the field. And he was flying. Not doing sound-type things, but exceptional things. Chasing down plays from far behind. And when we got to looking at the films, he was doing it every week,” recalled former A&M head coach Emory Bellard.
Bellard introduced himself to Hayes and spent several minutes trying to get to know him.
Meanwhile, Hayes never spoke, and Bellard thought he had botched his recruiting pitch.
It was only later that he found out about Hayes’ stuttering problem, and the fact Hayes rarely spoke when he was nervous.
Bellard ended up gaining a rapport with Hayes, and with no other area schools recruiting him, Texas A&M had the inside track.
During the national signing period, Hayes became an Aggie.
Getting Attention in College Station
Shortly after arriving in College Station, Hayes was moved to outside linebacker.
He also adapted to the change of pace now that he was out of Houston.
“College Station was very slow,” remarked Hayes in 1986. “I was a street kid. I had a street mentality. I was slick. Making that transition to that slow lifestyle was a needed change.”
The following year, Hayes was moved again – this time to safety.
As Hayes was learning a new position, A&M was slowly improving in the win column after years of losing records.
During Hayes’ freshman year in 1973, the Aggies were 5-6. In 1974, they were 8-3.
Hayes adapted to the position change well and led the team in interceptions with six during his junior year in 1975.
Aggies in the NFL: All-Team
Shane Lechler: NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Von Miller: 10s All-Decade Team
Aaron Glenn: Jets All-Time 4 Decade Team
Yale Larry: 50s All-Decade Team
JD Crow: 60s All-Decade Team
Lester Hayes: 80s All-Decade Team
Dante Hall: 00s All-Decade Team
— Chance Bitters (@chance_bitters) April 28, 2021
The ‘75 A&M team finished 10-2 and lost to USC in the Liberty Bowl after the season.
It was the first bowl for the program since 1967.
For the second year in a row, Hayes helped lead the Aggies to a top five ranking in total defense.
In fact, the ‘75 Aggies led the nation in allowing opponents only 183.8 yards per game.
Hayes’ senior year in 1976 was one to remember.
After the first five games of the season, the Aggies were just 3-2.
Then they busted loose for seven victories to end the year including blowing out rival University of Texas and beating the Florida Gators in the Sun Bowl on January 2.
Hayes led the team in picks again with eight, which was the most by an Aggie in over 30 years.
BCPTBT: Lester Hayes former Wheatley High and Texas A&M standout who was draft it in 1977 by the Oakland Raiders why he not in the NFL HOF 39 career INT'S 5 time to Pro Bowl 2 super bowl rings! @nflhalloffame18 @12thManFndtn @OaklandRaiders pic.twitter.com/6NyANEyHQy
— BCP Foundation (@bayoucitypreps) July 31, 2020
For the third season in a row, the Aggies’ defense was in the top five nationally for total defense, and Hayes had gained a nickname.
Hayes’ play in 1976 led to a second consecutive All-SWC selection as well as first-team All-America honors.
He finished his college playing career as one of A&M’s top five leaders in total interceptions.
Oakland Selects Hayes
Texas A&M’s resurgence in the win column, along with Hayes’ exceptional play in 1975 and ‘76, gained the attention of NFL scouts.
With the 126th overall selection in the fifth round of the 1977 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders drafted Hayes.
He couldn’t have gone to a better organization.
In 1976, the Raiders had only lost one game and won Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings.
Hayes was excited to learn from his veteran teammates, especially the nuances of the safety position at the NFL level.
That didn’t last long. During training camp, Oakland coach John Madden informed Hayes he was being moved to cornerback.
— GigEm247 (@GigEm247) April 14, 2021
Hayes wasn’t happy as he thought the position change would mean less action.
“Hayes had begrudgingly switched from linebacker to safety at Texas A&M. The last thing he wanted was to get further away from hitting people. Now Madden was asking—no, telling—him to play corner,’ explained ESPN’s Ryan Hockensmith.
“I started bawling like a newborn baby,” Hayes recalled.
During his rookie season, Hayes endured a crash course while learning a new spot in the secondary.
He finally cracked the starting lineup toward the end of the regular season and picked off one pass while also recording two fumble recoveries.
The Raiders went 11-3 that year and missed their bid for a repeat championship when they lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
Hayes Acquires Another Nickname
By 1978, Hayes became a full-time starter and picked off 11 passes combined in ‘78 and 1979.
Additionally, he returned two interceptions for touchdowns in ‘79 (the NFL did not keep track of tackles at the time).
Although the Raiders finished both seasons out of the playoff picture with 9-7 records, Hayes was developing a reputation as a shutdown corner.
He excelled in bump-and-run coverage and was so adept at staying with his man that he acquired a cringe-worthy nickname, “Lester the Molester.”
Hayes also had the distinction of using a healthy amount of Stickum during his early years.
Stickum was a brown substance that acted as an adhesive and helped players catch the football easier.
He was introduced to Stickum during his rookie year by Raiders veteran receiver Fred Biletnikoff.
“Try that, rookie,” Biletnikoff said. “I thought,” said Hayes recently, “that Fred had put axle grease in my hands.”
While most NFL receivers, including Biletnikoff, used the substance on their hands, Hayes seemed to bathe himself in it.
Apparently Lester Hayes never bought into the "a little dab will do ya" philosophy. pic.twitter.com/455xr6DnYA
— FB_Helmet_Guy (@FB_Helmet_Guy) August 21, 2022
However, his intention was to use Stickum to adhere to receivers, not so much to intercept balls.
“The sole focus of our team was to win consistently,” Hayes told ESPN in 2007. “Whether it was a mental or a physical advantage, we were going to do whatever was necessary to win. Our attitude was that if we could get away with something, we were going to do it.”
It couldn’t be ignored that Stickum did help Hayes corral footballs.
For instance, there was a game where the ball hit Hayes in the helmet and appeared to stick to it until he could pull it down for an interception.
“Few interceptions in the NFL are caught cleanly,” he said. “There’s normally a bounce or a juggle off a defensive back’s anatomy. I was very conscious of that. I made sure if a football touched my anatomy, the chances of me dropping it were minimal.”
Near Record Setting 1980
The stars aligned for the Raiders in 1980.
During the regular season, the team went 11-5 and defeated Houston, Cleveland, and San Diego in the playoffs before meeting the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 26, 2022
Hayes did his part by flying all over the field and harassing receivers.
By the end of the season, he had hauled in 13 interceptions for 273 return yards and a touchdown.
His interception and return total marks led the league, and Hayes finished tied for second to Dick “Night Train” Lane (14 in 1952) for most picks in an NFL season.
Hayes’ incredible year led to accolades that included NFL Defensive Player of the Year, first-team All-Pro, and a selection to his first of five Pro Bowls.
There was also the Stickum debate as several opponents wondered if the gooey substance was the only reason for Hayes’ success.
To be fair, a few teammates wondered if Hayes went overboard with the stuff.
“You practically had to pry the ball loose from him whenever he got his hands on it,” said Ted Hendricks, a former Raiders linebacker.
During the postseason, Hayes added five more picks.
The Raiders’ defense thoroughly humiliated the Eagles in Super Bowl XV, limiting Philadelphia to only 69 rushing yards on their way to a resounding 27-10 win.
Raiders Return to the Super Bowl
After the 1980 season, the NFL league office had received enough complaints about Hayes’ Stickum use that the league banned the substance.
In fact, the NFL named the new rule after Hayes.
Rule 22.214.171.124 says, “The Lester Hayes Rule”- Adhesive, Slippery Substances. Adhesive or slippery substances on the body, equipment, or uniform of any player; provided, however, that players may wear gloves with a tackiﬁed surface if such tacky substance does not adhere to the football or otherwise cause handling problems for players.”
The ruling meant Hayes could no longer stick to his man. He had to do it the old-fashioned way.
Opponents soon realized that Hayes was a natural and that Stickum didn’t have much to do with his success.
In 1981 and 1982, he totaled five picks and was voted to the Pro Bowl both years.
Between the ‘81 and ‘82 seasons, the Raiders abandoned Oakland and relocated to Los Angeles.
During their second season in LA, the organization went 12-4 and crushed Pittsburgh and Seattle in the first two rounds of the 1983 playoffs by a combined score of 68-24.
Lester Hayes set an NFL record in 1983 when literally everyone refused to shake hands with him. pic.twitter.com/OdkXZH8JTk
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) October 21, 2019
That same year, the Raiders brought in Mike Haynes from the Patriots.
Together with Hayes and safeties Vann McIlroy and Mike Davis, the Raiders’ secondary was formidable.
During Super Bowl XVIII against the Washington Redskins, Hayes and Haynes were a nightmare for ‘Skins quarterback Joe Theismann.
“I could see the fear in Theismann’s face,” said Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long.
Before the game, Hayes called himself the ”only true Jedi in the NFL” in reference to his love of Star Wars.
He then used his Jedi mind tricks during the contest to limit Washington receivers Art Monk and Charlie Brown to four total catches.
Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes are the Greatest Cornerback Duo ever in NFL History 🏴☠️🏴☠️ Mike Haynes is in the Hall of Fame, Lester Hayes Needs to be Pro Football Hall of Fame 🏴☠️🏴☠️ pic.twitter.com/buClhz7cKe
— 🏴☠️IERaiderFan🏴☠️ (@laflores15) June 23, 2022
The secondary played so well that Theismann was sacked six times trying to find a receiver.
“Hayes and Haynes were the difference in the game,” Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard said.
By the end of the fourth quarter, the Raiders had put on a clinic on both sides of the ball as they discarded Washington 38-9.
The LA defense held the ‘Skins to 283 total yards.
Hayes Begins to Slow
In 1984 and 1985, the Raiders won 11 and 12 games respectively but couldn’t get past their first playoff opponent both years.
Hayes remained consistent while collecting five total interceptions including a pick for a touchdown in ‘85.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) July 31, 2021
Although he was voted to the Pro Bowl after the ‘84 season, opponents remarked that Hayes was slowing down.
Hayes later confirmed that he was slowed in 1984 by a significant injury.
“I played the last eight games with a torn calf muscle,” Hayes remarked. “I couldn’t cut. I was scared. I was nervous. I took injections. I still made the Pro Bowl. Baffling!”
Before the 1986 season, Hayes announced that he was fully healthy and ready to play.
“Everybody said I couldn’t function anymore, although everyone knew I was hurt (in 1985),” said Hayes. “They knew but they didn’t want to know. So be it. I’m back, baby.”
That season, while LA missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record, Hayes started 14 games and collected two interceptions and two fumble recoveries including one returned for a score.
— Patrick J. Barnes (@9mm_trilla) July 6, 2021
When the season concluded Hayes knew that he had played his last game and retired.
In his 10-year career, Hayes had totals of 39 interceptions for 572 return yards and four interceptions along with seven fumble recoveries for 39 return yards and a score.
He was a two-time Super Bowl winner, five-time Pro Bowler, five-time second-team All-Pro, a first-team All-Pro once, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and NFL interceptions leader once.
Hayes has also been named to the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team.
After retiring from the game, Hayes got involved in youth football and was added to the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.
Lester Hayes for a career Raider for ten years. Two time Super Bowl Champion. Five time PRo Bowl. NFL 1980s All Decade Team. In my eyes a HOFer. @ProFootballHOF @Raiders #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/7lePitJCGr
— JMRaider (@KSJM_12_72) August 22, 2020
Due to sound investments made during his playing days, Hayes was the opposite of many pro athletes who go broke once their career ends.
He suffered from health problems from time to time but nothing serious.
In 2012, Hayes even made statements about the NFL concussion issue that was counter to many of his peers.
“It’s all on the players, not anybody else, because the players have the same gladiator genes that existed in Rome over 2,000 years ago. They have a love of football to the 10th power. So the players make the final call. Trust me. No matter what they are told by doctors or anybody else, they will fight to play.”
Hayes added that he believes the NFL is much safer now than during his time in the league.
“We didn’t have any guidelines. You could actually lead with your face mask (as a defender) – putting your face mask on an opposing player’s face mask, without a $15,000 fine. You could throw a forearm shiver to the throat. People played with broken bones. Guys would carry smelling salt in their socks, so if you got a little woozy on the field, you’d reach into your sock for help.”
Hayes’ thoughts on concussions may not be popular, but limiting his speech has never been a good idea, according to former teammates and coaches.
“Lester was a colorful guy and I think teams wanted to put him in his place,” former Raiders defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner said. “That didn’t really work out.”