During Homecoming festivities last year at the Greek Step Show, men’s track and field head coach Rey Robinson was looking everywhere for his athletes.
Alongside him was Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes, known as “The World’s Fastest Human” in the 1960s – a FAMU alumnus.
Robinson was trying to introduce Hayes to as many of the track athletes as possible.
One of the athletes he found was Jean Brunache, 21, the self-proclaimed “Haitian Sensation,” a pre-med student, whose specialty is the 400 meter dash.
“He (Bob Hayes) encouraged me that day, as well as the other athletes, to keep running and that is one of the reasons why I am still running today,” Brunache said. “He emphasized the fact that the track program here has a history of great runners.”
That was the norm for Bob Hayes, who died Wednesday evening in a Jacksonville hospital.
“He loved the university and most importantly he came back often,” said Coach Robinson in a phone interview on Friday, who first met Hayes when he was 17. “And whenever he came back he would always talk to the athletes, and encourage them to get their degrees, while working hard in practice.”
Bob Hayes was a two-sport star at Florida A&M, running track and playing football from 1960-1964. After winning two gold medals at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 1964, Hayes came back to FAMU in the fall and helped A.S. “Jake” Gaither’s football team win another Black College National Championship going 9-1.
Primarily a kickoff and punt return specialist, Hayes was also part of the 1961 team that went undefeated (10-0) and won the Black College National Championship, and the 1962 team that only lost one game (9-1) before being named the AP Small College National Champions.
During his tenure, he also set FAMU single season records in punt return average in 1963 (24.0) and in kickoff return average in 1961 (34.3), before going on to the NFL.
Jover “Soultrain” Lawrence was one of the many Rattlers in the 1960s that saw Hayes’ blazing speed first hand and was able to interact with his wonderful personality.
“He was the fastest human being at that particular time,” Lawrence said. “He was also a very nice person that got along with everybody.”
Lawrence described Hayes as “strictly a Rattler,” therefore news of his death really shook the FAMU community.
“Its really unfortunate that he died because he was such an outstanding FAMUan and he was such an outstanding American,” said Dorothy Williams, the vice president emeritus for university relations, and a friend of Hayes.
“When somebody like Bob dies you think about your own mortality, and it encourages you to do the best that you can everyday that you have.”
The Jacksonville native, one of the great-grandfathers of the FAMU family, was the only human being on earth that could have stepped out of his house with an Olympic gold medal around his neck and a super bowl ring (1972 with the Dallas Cowboys) weighing down his ring finger.
“I feel honored that I am on the same track team as the most incredible athlete that ever lived,” Brunache said. “I am so happy that I was able to meet him before he died.”
Ibram Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org