No ghosts here.
We cannot, in good faith, trot out Lester Hayes today as inspiration for the return of Oakland Raider glory.
It is not fair, or righteous, to portray this cheating, cackling former Raider as a spirit that will descend upon his former team in their AFC championship battle against the Baltimore Ravens.
“I’m a changed man,” Lester Hayes says. “I have been released from the darkness of hate.”
He was baptized last Sunday. He spends his days either signing autographs for a charity organization or watching vein-popping pastors on the television.
He met his new girlfriend in a Wal-Mart. In Modesto. He lives there. He drives her daughter to Girl Scouts and dance class there.
Sorry, but these Raiders are going to have do it on their own.
“‘Well . . . " Hayes says softly.
OK, OK, there is this one thing.
It’s a 10-ounce jar. It’s located in a storage box in the deepest, darkest part of Lester Hayes’ home.
A jar of stickum.
“The last jar of stickum on earth,” Hayes says solemnly.
You remember stickum. It was the gooey substance that Hayes lathered on his arms and hands, helping him intercept passes and steer receivers during his 10-year Raider career.
Stickum gave the Raiders such an advantage, it was outlawed after their 1981 Super Bowl victory.
One remaining jar. In the hands of a changed man.
“I never look at it, I never touch it,” Hayes says. “That was my past. I’m beyond that now.”
Fine. But just for argument’s sake, what if Al Davis asks you for that jar before today’s game?
“What?” he says.
What if your Raider godfather asks for one last favor, just a little one, 10 ounces that could help his defense stop the Ravens.
“I don’t think he would ask,” Hayes says.
But what if he does? What if he decides that to ensure safe passage into a new era, his team must first drag its toes through a delicious bit of its past.
Hayes pauses. And pauses.
Amid the silence, you can almost hear it. The rustling of a silver-and-black shirt. The snapping of an eye-patched helmet. A thwap of a forearm shiver.
You interrupt the pause by repeating the question.
Would you give Al Davis that stickum?
“Well, mmmm . . . yes, of course I would give it to him,” Lester Hayes says. “Remember, there are no rules if you don’t get caught. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”
So there are ghosts here.
Lester Hayes, 45, will be on the Raider sideline today, admiring an image he helped create, a culture he once symbolized.
“My team will be running around out there like Bruce Lee’s fist and fury,” he says. “Watching them will be pure ambrosia.”
And won’t he be proud.
Joining with Mike Haynes to form one of the best cornerback duos in football history, Hayes made five Pro Bowls, helped win two Super Bowls, earned defensive player of the year honors in 1980 for an amazing 13 interceptions.
No, he didn’t popularize stickum, that would be Fred Biletnikoff. But he became its most popular disciple.
No, he didn’t invent the craziness of the Lyle Alzado and Ted Hendricks. But he put it into words.
This, despite one of the worst stutters in the history of sports.
“Guys in the locker room used to ride me about all sorts of things, even mean things and hateful things,” he remembers. “But nobody ever said a word about my stuttering.”
That was those Raiders. Characters, but with character. Cursed, yet blessed.
In a way, that is also these Raiders.
Junk mail quarterback Rick Gannon. Failed running back Tyrone Wheatley. Renegade receiver Andre Rison. A defense filled with guys from somewhere else.
Most expect them to beat the happy-to-be-here Ravens today at Network Associates Coliseum because of loud fans and dark moods.
Of course, there are other reasons.
“They’ll win because they play for a coach, Jon Gruden, who could lead his troops through a gantlet of pit bulls wearing pork chop underwear,” Hayes said.
He is still a great quote despite still having the serious stutter. The only difference is, he now also has trouble breathing.
He had laser surgery, a procedure he hoped would help his stuttering, and says that he hasn’t been able to breathe easily since.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m on Mount Everest base camp number two,” he says.
He will undergo another operation soon to help the breathing. The stuttering, he continues to battle.
“But you know, I’ve never felt more free,” he says.
During two hours of conversation recently, he talked about that freedom, from a Raider reputation that became a burden, from life in Southern California that ended when his San Fernando Valley home was damaged by the 1994 earthquake.
He walked away from the house, hasn’t been back, hasn’t rented it, hasn’t sold it, just walked away.
“I have studied Confucius, I have read Freud, I have studied Darwinism,” he said. “I have come out of the darkness.”
He says in that darkness, he belonged to two clubs.
The first was called Ludie Phi Doty, which referred to the drugs he and friends ingested to fight their football pain.
“It was a sharing club,” he says. “You drank something, you smoked something, you snorted something.”
His other affiliation, he says, was with the NFL sex scene.
“During my life, I dated thousands and thousands of women,” he says. “Ninety percent were only interested in my fame. Just 10% were interested in me. But it didn’t matter.”
He catches his breath and continues.
“For me, there were twosomes, threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes and sixsomes,” he says.
“I married a Raiderette, not out of love, but out of lust,” he says.
“When a Christian lady approached me, I felt like the roadrunner being chased by the coyote,” he says.
“I had to shake that Hollywood XXX foundation that I procured in L.A., and come to Modesto to change my life,” he says.
It is there, in that Wal-Mart, he found Wanda Scott, who says she can’t believe he was ever anything but a nice boyfriend.
“He’s watching television evangelists two or three times a day, he’s doing his own bible study,” she says. “I can’t imagine anything else.”
Although two years ago, she did receive a taste of the old Lester Hayes when he phoned her from Reno, where he was attending an autograph session.
He had been suffering a terrible toothache. He had visited a local dentist. He had no money in his wallet.
So he did what anybody would have done in that situation.
He . . . ran to a local jeweler and sold his Super Bowl XVIII ring for $2,000 to pay the dentist?
“I was desperate,” he says. “When I played, I was always taking shots for pain. I had so much Novocain in my thumbs, I couldn’t feel them. My tooth hurt. I couldn’t take the pain.”
He returned to Modesto with the intention of withdrawing some money and paying off the jeweler, but he became afflicted with a prostate disease, and it was several months before he could make the return trip.
By then, he was receiving calls that the ring was being sold through an online auction.
He wound up buying a new one through the manufacturer for $14,500.
An expensive dentist’s bill.
“I’m not going to touch that one,” his girlfriend says.
Good to know that despite his evolution, Lester Hayes can still be Lester Hayes.
Good to know he still has that stickum, which helped him intercept those 13 passes during the 1980 season, then five more in the postseason.
Of course, he doesn’t want to discuss that these days, seeing as it speaks to the depth of the Raiders’ cheating hearts.
Today, he returns to the sidelines for only the second time in several years, a new man, a changed man, Ken Stabler in a tux, Al Davis in a three-piece suit.
“Without stickum, I couldn’t catch a cold in Antarctica,” Lester Hayes asks. “Do you know I once intercepted a pass with one thumb. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
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Lester Hayes’ year-by-year interceptions (* Led league):
MOST INTERCEPTIONS IN ONE SEASON
14--Dick Lane, 1952 L.A. Rams
13--Lester Hayes, 1980 Oakland
13--Dan Sandifer, 1948 Washington
13--Spec Sanders, 1950 N.Y. Yankees
Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.