Bullet Bob Hayes belongs in the Hall of Fame — let's start there. He changed the game of football. This is not my opinion, nor that of former Cowboy teammates simply stumping for one of their own. This is what the guys who had to coach against him said, what those who had to line up against him said, what former Oiler and Redskin and Hall of Fame safety Kenny Houston said when talking to seniors committee members in Canton this summer.
Just say “Bob Hayes” and Kenny starts talking about how Washington worried about him more than any receiver in the league, how flawed this idea about him only being a speed guy is, how he ran across the middle, how the quick screen was basically invented for him and how he changed the ways defenses played. What he describes is basically the definition of a Hall of Famer.
Not a lot of voters agree, or at least not enough of them, which is why Bullet Bob is most likely looking at his last shot at a bust in Canton on when voters take another look at him Saturday at the Super Bowl. And Houston cannot be in the room to make the case for his inclusion.
In his place goes longtime and widely respected Dallas Morning News NFL columnist Rick “Goose” Gosselin. His task is to finally convince enough voters to give Hayes his due, even if that due has to come posthumously.
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Of course, Goose along with Houston Chronicle NFL columnist, John McClain, another longtime and big time, are basically why Hayes has this one last shot at all. They have kept his memory alive. “I'm not going to say it's now or never but it's close,” McClain said. ”Journalist is the new lawyer nowadays, vilified as “drive bys” and “flyovers” and “misinformed haters”. And we probably deserve this derision at times. On our worst days, we tend toward snarky, elitish and smug.
We also have a lot of days, though, when we try to shed a little light on a wrong, when we use this bully pulpit to try to bring about change, when we speak for an athlete unable to speak for himself.
And by we, I do not mean me. I am talking about Gosselin and McClain, who have done the heavy lifting to make sure Hayes had this shot. The Seniors Committee only has brought four players back for a second look. So it appeared as if Hayes' chances at the Hall were done in 2004 when, as a seniors candidate, he failed the “yes” or “no” vote. This typically had been just a rubber stamp on 24 of the previous 31 seniors going in. I was covering the vote for the S-T that year in Houston, and I don't think at that moment I realized how big what had happened actually was. It wasn't until I started interviewing that I realized how polarizing Hayes was.
Longtime Sports Illustrated columnist Paul Zimmerman, a seniors committee member who had nominated Hayes, was so mad I thought he might scream. He later resigned in protest. So it would have been understandable if McClain and Goose had simply shrugged their shoulders and said, well, we tried.
One problem. Both believe Hayes to be a Hall of Famer, not based on what they think or because in Goose's case, he represents the Cowboys. This belief comes from talking to player after player, coach after coach, GM after GM, year after year after year.
“It's about doing the right thing. It's about putting the people who deserve to be in in,” Gosselin said. “I don't care about Cowboy, Redskin, Giant, Lion. It's about putting the right people in. And Bob Hayes belongs in the Hall of Fame. He impacted the game. I don't want to hear about stats, I want to hear about impact.”
And this is the case he plans to present. His plan is not to beat anybody down, just merely show them what he sees, what Houston saw, what Hayes was. That said, Peter King laid odds of Bullet Bob finally landing a spot in Canton as “even” in a recent column for Sports Illustrated. And he admittedly remains “unconvinced that he 'changed the game,' as many of his advocates say, but I will be open to his candidacy.
”McClain has a simple question he asks himself before voting “yes” or “no” on a player. Can you write the history of the NFL without him?
“With Bob Hayes,” he said. “That is not the case.”
And Saturday is most likely the last chance Hayes has to convince voters like King. Luckily for him, he's in good hands with Goose and McClain.