I wish I could sit here and tell you a great story about the day I saw Bob Hayes burn past a cornerback and then turn on the jets past a safety coming over to help cover him before catching a pass from Roger Staubach in stride for a Cowboys touchdown. I wish I could tell you that story, but I can't because Hayes retired from the NFL the year before I was born. So, like a lot of other people, I only know him from the stats, the films and the stories.
But I really do wish that I'd had a chance to see him light up a secondary. It must have been something to catch that exact moment when Hayes kicked into first gear and everyone in the stadium knew that it was six points for Dallas. It must have been something to see him catch a punt and turn upfield with world-class speed, a mini-Olympic games in the middle of a football game. It must have been something to see defenses come up with new zone packages and double teams to try to limit his effectiveness, to see the game of football changing right before your eyes.
You don't get to see that happen all that often. Rules get tweaked nearly every season and there are always superstars that you have game plan for, but changing the way the game looks on the field is a much rarer phenomenon. The only guy who I've ever seen do it was Lawrence Taylor, who turned left tackle from a member of the offensive line to THE member of the offensive line while also making a dedicated pass rusher a must-have part of every defense in the league.
It wasn't possible for other teams to exactly duplicate Hayes' speed, but they tried and defenses had to adapt to a game that went vertical a lot faster than anyone expected. That led to the bump and run, a safety playing centerfield and other schemes that have a lot to do with the game of football we watch today. That (plus 371 catches and 76 touchdowns) goes a long way to explaining why Hayes will be getting a bust on Saturday afternoon.
And it goes a long way toward explaining why I regret never having the chance to see him play live.