I’ll confess. I’m no sports fan.
Recently, however, I found myself drawn to a photograph in the USA Today sports section picturing a lean, handsome, middle-aged man with warm eyes and the smile of a winner.
Between two sinewy fingers was a gold medal. On another, he wore a championship ring.
“‘Bullet’ Bob dies at 59,” the headline read. Something indescribable, which I couldn’t quite decipher, made me feel connected to this man somehow.
Forgoing my habitual dismissal of the sports section, I decided to read the story.
Sports writer Larry Weisman introduced me to Bob Hayes, a man once known as the world’s fastest human, who in the 1964 Olympics ran the 100 meter event and tied a world record – on tattered cinders.
He then anchored a gold medal winning relay team that set yet another record and brought a faltering USA team to first place. Apparently, the Tokyo Olympics didn’t know what hit ’em.
Later, Hayes joined the Dallas Cowboys, put his swift feet to the turf, and never looked back. With fiery speed, and a svelte but powerful frame, he revolutionized the role of the receiver and changed the game of football.
The Dallas Cowboys, and indeed the game of football, weren’t ready for the strike of “Bullet” Bob Hayes. But then again, FAMU Rattlers tend to have that effect on people.
The moment I read the words “Florida A&M,” Hayes’ accomplishments were no surprise. I understood immediately what I’d recognized in the likeness of this triumphant soul – the indisputable spirit of a mighty Rattler. Yet I wondered why I had never heard of Hayes. Many may assume that it’s because I’m unfamiliar with the FAMU Hall of Fame or general sports history. That may be true.
What I do know for certain is that learning about the history of Bob Hayes only on the occasion of his death was unfortunate. I felt the same pride in reading about Hayes as I did in learning that Althea Gibson once walked the Highest of Seven Hills. Somehow, I feel that this is history I should have learned the moment I arrived here.
As we continue to fight for the vision and future of our university, gleaming past accomplishments could light the way. So, let’s start here. On Sept. 18, “Bullet” Bob Hayes died at age 59. While still an undergraduate, he led FAMU in kickoff return averages for four seasons, made history at the 1964 Olympics, and returned to complete a stellar college career. “Bullet” Hayes was the first black to play the NFL Senior Bowl, and was named Southern MVP. In 1971, he became the first and only Olympic gold medalist to garner a Super Bowl Championship ring.
A phenomenal athlete, and a proud Floridian, “Bullet” Bob Hayes was the consummate Rattler. He will be missed.
-Tara Lake is a 23-year-old graduate student from Hillside, NJ. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.