Dirty Dozen Diary: Bob Hayes’ Complex Departure
Even in retrospect, it can be hard to watch a transcendent athlete fall victim to the clutches of Father Time. Sometimes, within all of us, there is a longing that a certain player be allowed to perform at his highest level forever. For me growing up, that player was Troy Aikman. For many old-timers who cheered for the Cowboys back in their days at the Cotton Bowl, that player was none other than Bob Hayes.
Some legends walk. Some run. Still others fly. For “Bullet” Bob, his career remains identifiable even today by his inclination to do the latter.
That’s why the news announcement which came down in July of 1975 was such a big deal. After a decade in Dallas that knew no end to professional accolades, Hayes had been traded to the San Francisco 49ers for all the worth of a third-round draft selection. So complex and so multi-layered was the emotion surrounding his departure from the Cowboys that I spent a large portion of Chapter 8 in “The Dirty Dozen” dealing with this very issue.
I know, I know. Parting ways with a player who had caught all of seven passes the season before might not have been the end of the world. But, if not the world, it certainly felt like the ending of an era. Even at age 32, Hayes was still revered for his role in lifting the Cowboys into the national limelight during the 1960s, when his all-world speed opened up passing lanes for Don Meredith downfield, and running lanes for Don Perkins. To so many people around the Cowboys’ headquarters, Hayes was still very much a legend. What he was wasn’t nearly so important as what he had been.
Consequentially, not everyone at Cowboys training camp received the news of his departure in the same way. For rookie wide receiver Percy Howard, seeing Hayes hit the exit ramps served as a missed chance to share the practice field with a childhood hero. For Golden Richards, who wore Hayes’ No. 22 in college at BYU, it was a victory over his greatest rival. For the longtime veterans like Mel Renfro and Jethro Pugh, it was goodbye to a man they had a strong respect for. And for general manger Tex Schramm, trading Hayes away was a welcome relief from a pain in the organization’s backside.
Hayes was nowhere near to being the player that he was when the Cowboys drafted him out of Florida A&M in 1964. The speed that made him a world-class sprinter had diminished. The determination to be the best – which had been on full display when he won a gold medal at the 1964 Olympic Games and during his early days in a Cowboy uniform – had all but evaporated. Instead, Hayes had become a symbol of the divisive forces within the Cowboys locker room that head coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm had vowed to purge after a contentious 1974 campaign resulted in the team missing out on the postseason for the first time since Hayes’ rookie year of 1965.
It is truly unfortunate that Hayes’ downfall is directly tied to the Cowboys’ philosophical shift on offense that resulted in Dallas getting over the hump and winning their first world championship. It was after Dallas’ second consecutive playoff loss to Cleveland in 1969 that Landry wrote a letter to each player on the team, requesting their opinions about what the team needed to change in order to alter their postseason fortunes. A common reply from the players indicated a yearning for Landry to employ more of a run-oriented offense.
So, after due consideration, Landry obliged. But Landry wasn’t the only one who had to change. The wide receivers were in for a little surprise of their own. After years of allowing them to serve as little more than decoys and obstacles on running plays, Landry now required Hayes, Lance Rentzel and others to be blockers.
Hayes was an athlete at a position that Landry now required a technician. This didn’t go over well with Hayes, who, at times, refused steadfastly to serve as a blocker. This unwillingness to lend a hand was one of the dramatic undercurrents of the Cowboys’ 1971 championship season, that became overshadowed by a quarterback controversy and Duane Thomas’ silent rebellion. A year later, Hayes saw his offensive role lessened. By 1974, he was primarily a bench-warmer. His greatest accomplishment in 1975 was in making a few controversial headlines.
At the very beginning of the calendar year, there was still a ray of hope among certain members of the Cowboys offense that Hayes would show up in Thousand Oaks in July and earn a significant role for the 1975 season. Not that it was very likely at this stage of his career.
The chances of Hayes coming to training camp and earning a starting spot were, according to Golden Richards, slim to none. But when Hayes went to court in February of 1975 and told a fabricated story about how the Cowboys had withheld monetary payments from him, Hayes’ days in Dallas were officially done. There were to be no more second chances, no opportunity to mend his relationship with Schramm.
Bob Hayes had run his last Bullet-like pattern for the Cowboys. In some ways, that’s as sad now as it was back then.
Next time, we’ll delve into Bob Lilly’s landmark retirement.
Thanks for reading along.
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