Plays With Dallas Cowboys
After his Olympic performance, Hayes returned to Florida A&M, but was soon drafted by the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL) as a wide receiver, and left school before finishing his degree. Although some observers scoffed at Dallas's choice because Hayes was a runner, not a football player, Dallas scouts believed that Hayes's speed was a valuable asset, and that a player either had speed or did not have it. Hayes had it, and the scouts believed he could learn football techniques from coaches.
The scouts were right. In Hayes's first two seasons, he caught 110 passes for twenty-five touchdowns, averaging twenty-two yards per catch. He made the Pro Bowl his first three seasons, and played ten seasons in all with the Cowboys, scoring seventy-one touchdowns and averaging twenty yards per catch; he helped the team win its first Super Bowl in 1972.
Other teams took notice, and the New York Giants actually signed another Olympic champion, 200-meter runner Henry Carr, to cover Hayes when the teams played each other. What the Giants didn't realize was that Hayes had beaten Carr in the 200-meter Olympic trials, and that Carr could never catch Hayes man-toman. Other teams drafted other sprinters, such as Willie Gault, Ron Brown, and Renaldo Nehemiah. None ever duplicated Hayes's feats on the football field.
Hayes's speed was so great that opposing teams began devising improved zone defenses in order to catch him. Zone defense had existed before Hayes, but it was simple and easy for Hayes to destroy. Coaches had to come up with double zone defenses, involving more than one player, to try and catch him. No other player has single-handedly caused this kind of strategic change in the defensive game.
Hayes retired from football in 1975, after playing a season with the San Francisco 49ers.
Hayes ran into trouble in 1979, when he sold cocaine and speed to an undercover officer. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, but was paroled after 10 months in jail. When he was released, he was eligible to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but because of his conviction, he was passed over.
The Cowboys' former president and general manager Tex Schramm told Zimmerman, "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." However, Schramm's comment seemed somewhat hollow, since he was the selector for the Cowboys' Ring of Honor, and he did not admit Hayes to the Ring.