Bullet Had Speed To Burn

Bob Hayes lets smoke trail from his mouth as he talks with the press in Fort Lauderdale in 1971

 

 

By MARTIN FENNELLY | The Tampa Tribune

JACKSONVILLE – Before he died in 2002, Bob Hayes told his older sister, Lucille Hester, just what he wanted – to rest in his hometown of Jacksonville. To rest in a proper memorial so folks would remember. Too many had forgotten.

“He wanted what he’d done on there,” said Hester, a youth sports administrator in Washington, D.C. “He wanted an American flag, the Olympics flag, a Cowboys flag. He wanted the Olympic rings and the Cowboys star.”

It took five years, because Bob Hayes died poor, at least money poor. When the Super Bowl came to Jacksonville in 2005, he was still in an unmarked grave at Jacksonville’s Edgewood Cemetery. It was sad.

The small, elegant mausoleum was dedicated in 2007. You can see Bob Hayes’ flags when you turn into the cemetery. His mom has joined him. The words on the tomb tell you here rests the only man ever to win Olympic gold medals and a Super Bowl ring. There’s room for more words.

“We left room in case my baby brother gets in the football Hall of Fame,” Hester said. “That would be a wonderful thing.”

He remains Jacksonville’s greatest athlete, one of America’s greatest, a two-sport wonder. Some insist he’d have been bigger than Deion and Bo.

“Crow came along too early,” said Curtis Miranda, Bob Hayes’ lifelong friend.

Robert Lee Hayes grew up on Jacksonville’s East side. He was a pigeon-toed child racing down dirt roads. “No one could catch him,” said Earl Kitchings, Hayes’ high school football coach. He’ll never be “Bullet Bob” on the East side. His nickname was “Crow” for his dark skin and, well …

“He could fly,” said Charles Sutton, Hayes’ friend and college roommate. “Crow could fly.”

He broke track records at Matthew W. Gilbert High School and played football. At Florida A&M, he played for Jake Gaither when not setting sprinting world records. Al Austin, who raced Hayes in high school (beating him once), teamed with him on FAMU’s record-setting relay team. Hayes was the anchor.

“Crow would tell us, ‘Just give it to me close,'” Austin said.

Sutton and Miranda played football with Hayes. They played in the NFL, too. As much as Hayes’ talent, they remember his spirit, his laughter. Sutton remembers once in the offseason when they spotted a rabbit on the football field. “We’re eating rabbit tonight,” Bob Hayes announced. “Crow snuck up on the rabbit,” Sutton said.

He ran it down. Never was anybody like Crow.

The world saw in 1964. At the Tokyo Olympics, Hayes won two gold medals. He tied a world record by running 100 meters in 10 seconds. But it was in the 4×100 relay that he made his legend. He was in fifth place when he began his anchor leg. The United States won by 3 yards. The stop watches said Bob Hayes ran 100 meters in 8.6 seconds. Hester sat in the stands, next to her mother, who sat next to Jesse Owens.

Ralph Boston won 1960 Olympic gold in the long jump. He and Hayes traveled the world, rooming at track meets. Boston says the Tokyo anchor leg isn’t Hayes’ fastest.

“I saw him the year prior, in West Germany, he was even farther behind a German anchor man, and he ran right past him. The guy was so blown away that after the race he went into the dressing room, took off his uniform and handed it to Bob,” Boston said.

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