State Your Case: Lester Hayes


LesterHayes
(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

“The Judge” deserves another day in court, and it’s long overdue.

Lester Hayes was half of the finest cornerback tandem in NFL history, but he was never the B side. What made him and Hall-of-Fame corner Mike Haynes dueling A sides for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders were his aggressiveness, instincts, explosiveness and intimidation. He wasn’t known as “Lester the Molester” for nothing. Wide receivers hated to see him across the line of scrimmage not only because they were about to be blanketed but because they were about to be hit.

“Lester was one of the best cornerbacks ever at intimidation,” Haynes insists. “He really did go after people. As a cover man and in tackling, he was just phenomenal.”

When it comes to playing corner, what else is there?

Master of the “bump-and-run” technique taught to him by Willie Brown, a Hall-of-Fame cornerback himself, Hayes was a five-time Pro Bowl performer and the 1980 Defensive Player of the Year when he put together one of the greatest seasons of any cornerback. In his fourth season as a pro, after being converted from a college safety at Texas A&M as a rookie, Hayes led the NFL with 13 interceptions, one off the mark set by Dick “Night Train” Lane in 1952.

But it didn’t end there.

Hayes went on to pick off five passes in the playoffs for a record 18 total, and for good measure added one more at the Pro Bowl in his first of five straight appearances. In five of his nine years as a starting corner, Hayes was a Pro Bowl starter despite having few quarterbacks challenge him after that phenomenal 1980 Super Bowl winning season — with Hayes producing only eight interceptions in the four years following 1980.

Yet he was named a Pro Bowl starter, and, if truth be told, he should have been selected in 1979 as well when his seven interceptions left him third in the NFL. That slight was more than made up for when he was named to the 1980s’ all-decade team.

Because of his speed and instincts, Hayes was allowed by Brown, his position coach, and defensive coordinator Charlie Sumner, to roam free,. In fact, according to Sumner, Hayes played man coverage 85 percent of the time … but always with the green light to leave his man if he felt the quarterback was throwing elsewhere. Most of the time quarterbacks did, one reason his 39 career regular-season interceptions left him 84th all-time.

“The thing about Lester, he was usually right,” Haynes said of his former teammates’ omniscience.

Hayes’ style was pure aggression. Crouched low at the line of scrimmage like a panther ready to leap, he would slam his hands into the head or chest of opposing receivers as they tried to get into their release, often knocking them backwards and shattering the pattern’s timing. The limited times a receiver caught the ball on him, Hayes would use the “Riddell technique” taught him by former college teammate Pat Thomas — slamming the front logo of his helmet into their chests as he tackled them.

“It would knock the wind out of you,” recalled Hall-of-Fame receiver James Lofton.

Hayes would continue to bump receivers down the field, a move no longer legal — in part because of his relentless willingness to do it, with Hayes literally sticking to them like glue because he was slathered with “Stickum”’ until it was outlawed after that 13-interception season. That was called “The Lester Hayes Rule.” While it and the growing wariness of opposing quarterbacks reduced Hayes’ interceptions, he continued to shut down opposing receivers for six more seasons before retiring with 47 career interceptions, including eight in 13 playoff games.

Bright and well-spoken, the two-time Super Bowl champion used to call his side of the field “my eminent domain.” Few quarterbacks argued the point with him.

After becoming a starter in 1978, his second year in the league, Hayes would go on to start in all but three of his final 135 games. Not surprisingly, he was a Hall-of-Fame finalist in each of his first four years of eligibility (2001-04) but then seemed to slip into the mist of faded memory, a Hall of Famer denied.

Lester Hayes has two years of eligibility remaining before he moves into the vast abyss that is the senior pool. It seems only just that the Hall-of-Fame jury face “The Judge” one last time before that happens.

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29 Comments

  1. Jim Fallman
    May 20, 2015
    Reply

    STOP STOP STOP!!!! Quit mentioning Lester Hayes as part of a tandem with Mike Haynes!!!! The “tandem” was two seconds of Lester’s career! Doing so diminishes him. Also, what’s with this “Judge” nonsense? He’s known by fans as “Lester the Molester.” No fan called him anything else during his play years.
    Lester was the A side of Raider cornerbacks for years. His Raider record interception total in the 1980 season pushed the Raiders into the playoffs that year. By the way there were more picks that were called back due to penalties out of his control. Rewatch the 1980 AFC Championship. The B side corner is the only guy Dan Fouts would throw toward. Hayes blocked punts, intimidated receivers, shifted opponents game plans, changed games, drew fans to games, gave the team and fans confidence, was a large and interesting character and his CONTRIBUTION STANDS ALONE. Started in two Superbowl victories, played in the “Ghost to the Post Classic,”(I think), and for a microminute was part of a tandem with perhaps an even smoother corner. HE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!!

    • Derek Walker
      May 22, 2015
      Reply

      No one called him “Judge.” Me thinks you don’t know as much about Lester Hays as you think you do. Lots of fans called him “judge” and more importantly his teammates called him that. Got a clue.

      • Derek Walker
        May 22, 2015
        Reply

        *No one called him “judge”? Everyone called him “Judge.”

        • May 22, 2015
          Reply

          You are correct, sir. In fact, when the Raiders were in L.A. the guy covering them for the L.A. Herald-Examiner, Jack Disney, always, always, always referred to him as the Judge when quoting him.

  2. andy mckee
    May 20, 2015
    Reply

    Lester should have been a 1st ballot HOF inductee.. his record speaks for itself…the stickum was legal..Blitnukoff used it and he is in.
    Deion Sanders is in and he was afraid to tackle . Lester did it all..If he would have played for anyone else besides the Raiders…he would be in the HOF

  3. Rick Liebling
    May 20, 2015
    Reply

    Jim,

    Lester absolutely was known as “The Judge” (as well as Lester the Molester). And yes, he’s absolutely a HoFer.

  4. Josh
    May 20, 2015
    Reply

    i know Lester personally , he hates being called Lester the molester. Just so you know.

  5. Art
    May 21, 2015
    Reply

    Mr. Hayes prefer “The Judge” so out of respect, I will honor that. Lester “The Judge” Hayes deserves to be in the HOF period.

  6. jesse (thejudgejr)
    May 21, 2015
    Reply

    When I met Mr. Hayes in Carson Ca. One evening he signed my #37 jersey “to the judgejr” I was so thankful to regarded i that way. He seemed just as thankful for me having brought my jersey for him to sign he asked Cliff Branch and Rod Martimn for a marker so he could eargerly sign the jersey before I had a chance to ask. I wanted to share the story because as a Lester Hayes fan I know he really does appreciate us and we as fans need to find some way to get him into the HOF. In his time he was one of the most feared defenders. Football fans amd players all know who he is. I hate that he is not in yet.

  7. Dale Bradley
    May 22, 2015
    Reply

    The Judge should be there ( HOF ) and how about Cliff Branch too !
    Cliff has 3 Super Bowl rings, caught passes at the most critical of times, game after game !!!
    Need to get him in ASAP…

    • Alonzo C. Lee
      October 29, 2015
      Reply

      lester hayes cliff branch dave dalby jack tatum and rod martin all deserve to be in the hall of fame

  8. Tony from Canada
    May 22, 2015
    Reply

    Cliff Branch is just as deserving. Have a peak at his contemporary Lynn Swann. Branch’s numbers are similar or better in most categories and he also has the ring! Time for the HOF to recognize both Branch & Hayes once and for all!

    • May 22, 2015
      Reply

      Made that argument when I wrote about Branch earlier, Tony. Feel strongly about Branch, but seniors committee will have to take care of him. Thanks for writing.

  9. Anonymous
    May 22, 2015
    Reply

    MR. STICK’EM LESTER HAYES GREAT AWARENESS,EXCELLENT COVER SKILLS,A BALL HAWK. I LOVE WATCHING THE OLD RAIDERS GAME,THE CROUCHING STANDS, THE INTIMIDATING LOOK. DEFINITELY A HALL OF FAMER #RAIDER FAN 4/LIFE.

  10. Dino Labbate
    May 22, 2015
    Reply

    13 picks in 1980 regular season, 5 more in the playoffs, 1 in the Pro Bowl, and 5 were called back by penalty!!!! Incredible !! By far the greatest season by a corner EVER!!! Think about how many CB’s never have 24 Int’s in their entire career

    • May 22, 2015
      Reply

      All true. Not sure why Hayes has been ignored so long

  11. Ken Stelle
    May 23, 2015
    Reply

    Lester Hayes has always been and always will
    be my ultimate favorite football player ever!
    I started watching the Raiders in 1980 and during that season his reputation as THE DOMINANT defensive player was taking over the league and the HIS momentum of greatness plus some Plunkett magic- got them that SB XV trophy.

    Lester is unfortunately forgotten. That season never gets it’s due but the fact is – QBs and OCs simply avoided throwing to Lester after that season so his INT’s naturally dropped.
    He is truly one of the top 10 CB’s of all time and nowadays CBs still get their credit w/o having INTs cause they’re viewed as “shutdown” CBs.

    Lester was a football player 1st- he tackled, hit, sacked, blitzed, played ST and was a super smart student of the game.

    HOF no doubt- should have been in like 20 years ago.
    And he was his own player- Mike Haynes didn’t hell Lester they helped the overall D together.

  12. Ken Stelle
    May 23, 2015
    Reply

    By the way I was age 7 in 1980 and fell in love with the Raider mystique-Lester amplified that mystique.
    I own 1 NFL jersey and it’s a black home #37 with HAYES on the back!!!

  13. Rob
    May 23, 2015
    Reply

    Ron,
    Lester retired after the 1986 season. Wouldn’t he have to be a Senior Nominee since the 25 years have passed?

  14. rich
    May 25, 2015
    Reply

    I’ve said this before but it bears hearing it again:I question the fairness of any system that subscribes to the idea that a particular player cannot be in the HOF because(and only because) the HOF already contains too many of his teammates.And hype always wins out too,doesn’t it?we don’t see the hard work, just the highlights on Sportscenter.Given….Deion Sanders was a great corner,a great athlete,period and accordingly,belongs in the Hall of Fame.But so does Lester Hayes.I have bled silver and black since 1966, but still I like to think I can be objective about it.Why should Lester hayes be excluded because so many Raiders from that time period are in the hall? And again, since numbers are really all we have of a concrete nature to use for criteria,try comparing a pair such as hayes to Sanders and you see the numbers say Lester belongs.And it’s the same all the way down the line.MY God,I sound like Al Davis and his “it’s us against the world because the world is out to screw the Raiders( a theory I privately subscribed to)Try looking at pairs of numbers like these…..Namath who’s in and Stabler who isn’t,Webster who’s in and Dalby who isn’t,Lynn Swann(and this is the biggest discrepancy yet)who’s in and Cliff Branch who isn’t.What kind of nonsense is this…..you can’t be in the hall of Fame because too many of your teammates were also great.Just more proof that Al always had it right!And as a postscript to this…whomever of you leaving comments here prior to me who called the tandem of Hayes-Haynes the best in NFL history….you had that right ,too.

  15. william J
    May 27, 2015
    Reply

    Lester should have been HOF!!! Not on because its a RAIDER. Only reason. Deion Sanders who was afraid to make a tackle got in with no problem,”show time” yea right! “The Judge” was a blue collar player who would bum and tackle with best of them, no hold you and call for help to make the tackle. Another Raider who should be in HOF…. Kenny Stabler! I think its extremely sad that great player get over looked or DIE. Before they get the credit that deserve. Who are this ×××HOLES making these decisions?? Got to admit I am dissaponinted in the process. If you part of the solution, you part of the problem!!!!

  16. David Xaviel
    May 27, 2015
    Reply

    I know that my argument for Lester Hayes sounds like the “race card,” but the way I see it–it’s just a matter of fairness and consistency.

    While I don’t think that everyone is maliciously racist, I do think there’s a double standard that is contaminated by racial issues. For one, the nickname “Lester the Molester,” begs a tangent about times when it was a sex crime in some states for black people to even kiss white people.
    I realize that many people used that nickname simply because they thought it was funny, but: who would want to be called the molester–even as a joke? And that is certainly not a nickname that sounds badass like, The Hitman or The Assassin. Hence, the preference for the nickname, The Judge.

    That brings us to the use of stickum. The fact is, fellow Raider and Hall of Famer, Fred Biletinoff used stickum when he was named Super Bowl MVP. He’s in the Hall of Fame and the award for best receiver in college is named after him. Yet, when we talk about Lester Hayes–he’s called a cheater. Tom Brady uses deflated footballs and he’s still going to the Hall of Fame. Yet, the idea is the same: doing something to the ball that makes it easier to catch or throw.

    I know that I’ve excoriated the fans of Dan Fouts, but I didn’t feel that I personally hated Dan Fouts. I hate the defenses of Dan Fouts. Most of the defenses sound like pity because they think he was robbed of a Super Bowl by Lester Hayes. Fouts is still a great quarterback, but that’s just proof of the greatness of Hayes.

    The reason that the Raiders have been hated is because they were sloppy but would still win with intimidation and tricks. They don’t have a narrative that fits into the patterns, like Cowboys vs. the Steelers, or Brady vs. Manning. It was simply Al Davis vs. Everyone Else.
    He burned bridges and wasn’t shy about burning the bridges of people that crossed him. He was respected and hated and then he was just hated. The Raiders had the highest winning percentage for 40 years and 5 Super Bowl appearance to show for it.

    Lester Hayes definitely belongs in the category of Raiders in the Hall of Fame.

  17. T
    October 29, 2015
    Reply

    Lester Hayes has no moral compass. I dated Lester for two years. He was abusive to me & pparticipated in a scandal that has turned my life upside down. I am suing Lester and have additional lawsuits of harassment at the federal court of Sacramento, Ca & the Ninth Circuit. I want every person to see that those whom hurt others, as I have been hurt & victimized with abuse, and the harmful partipants of Jedi mind tricks & black assassins (witchcraft torment), need to held accountable. For such crimes of torment and vicious cruelty, is unacceptable! Such harm should not ever be rewarded.
    Tanya Grace McDaniel

  18. David Xaviel
    February 19, 2016
    Reply

    @Tanya. I’m sorry, but your reply is incoherent and possibly libelous. If you have been treated like that, continue to work with authorities or talk to a journalist. It is inappropriate to make incendiary claims in an internet forum.

  19. Anonymous
    March 5, 2016
    Reply

    when raider cats from long island want to shut it down ,drink ing ,drugs,war,break up the band,stop we say lester hayes ( shut down corner) plus he learned how to talk that must have been harder than the nfl

  20. bachslunch
    March 18, 2016
    Reply

    Lester Hayes has a decent honors profile at 3/5/80s, though the best Raider Senior DB is probably Dave Grayson (6/6/allAFL, good kick returner). If you decide to give him a pass on stickum use, Hayes is not at all an unreasonable HoF choice.

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