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Subject: Bob Hayes, Olympic Gold Medalist, former Dallas Cowboy

dead @ 59 in Florida
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Date Posted: September 19, 2002 11:08:31 EDT

"Bullet" Bob Hayes, the Olympic gold medal sprinter and Dallas Cowboys receiver who was once deemed the fastest man alive, has died. He was 59.

Hayes died late Wednesday in his hometown of Jacksonville, where he had battled liver and kidney ailments and prostate cancer. Shands Hospital spokeswoman Joanna Norris said Hayes died at 11:15 p.m.

Hayes earned the title "World's Fastest Human" and redefined the way the National Football League plays pass defense, but many of his accomplishments were later tainted by drug and alcohol addiction that landed him in jail and were part of the reason he was never inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

At the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Hayes won the gold medal in the 100 meters, tying the then-world record of 10.05 seconds. He also anchored the U.S. 400-meter relay team that won in a world-record 39.06 seconds.

Hayes' relay split was a sensational 8.6. Nearly 20 years later, The Los Angeles Times called it "the most astonishing sprint of all time."

The following year, the Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round, taking a chance on the former Florida A&M star with blazing speed but unrefined football skills.

In his rookie season, Hayes had 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the NFL with an average of 21.8 yards per catch.

Hayes' world-class speed forced defenses, unable to cover him with the traditional man-to-man schemes of the day, to come up with many of the zone defenses that are common in today's game.

When Dallas won the Super Bowl after the 1971 season, Hayes became the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. More than 30 years later, he's still the only person with both.

His success came long before the era when athletes like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan gained attention for succeeding at two sports. Hayes won championships in both track and football.

He finished an 11-year NFL career with 71 touchdown catches, a 20-yard average per catch, and three trips to the Pro Bowl. His statistics were comparable or better than many of the great receivers of his day, and his career appeared worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

But he hasn't made it, in part because of a drug and alcohol problem in an era when the public wasn't nearly as accustomed to seeing its sports stars struggle with their personal lives.

Hayes served 10 months in federal prison after an April 1979 guilty plea to delivering narcotics to an undercover police officer. That "destroyed my life" Hayes wrote in his autobiography, "Run, Bullet, Run: The Rise, Fall, and Recovery of Bob Hayes."

The prison term ended at about the same time he became eligible for the Hall, apparently dooming his chances.

"I feel like an outcast - like I've been left out and forgotten throughout the nation," Hayes said in 1999. "There's a lot of pain in my heart because what I accomplished was second to none. I'm not losing any sleep, but I do pay attention every year at this time."

He wasn't alone in his disappointment.

"The situation with Bob Hayes and the Hall of Fame is one of the most tragic stories I've ever been associated with during my time in professional football, and that's a helluva long time," said former Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm.

Hayes wasn't even a member of the Cowboys Ring of Fame until owner Jerry Jones agreed in September 2001 to make him the 11th member.

"I'm thrilled, I'm grateful, I'm blessed," Hayes told the crowd at his induction. "I played for the world's greatest professional sports team in history. Once a Dallas Cowboy, always a Dallas Cowboy."

Hayes retired in 1976 and lived in Dallas, before moving back to Jacksonville in the mid-1990s where he lived with his parents in relative obscurity. He continued to battle drug and alcohol problems and had been to rehabilitation programs three times after his retirement.

"I won gold medals representing this country, but I've gotten more recognition around the world than I have in my own backyard," he said.

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