For a franchise that boasts 26 members, the Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders sure do have a hard time being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A franchise that, despite 20 years of mediocrity, still has a winning record and has no shortage of legends. However, it doesn’t mean they have a cakewalk into Canton.
Tim Brown had to wait seven years to be enshrined, 1974 league MVP Ken Stabler had to wait a quarter century, and Cliff Branch waited 30 years. Tom Flores, who was not only a two-time Super Bowl champion as a head coach but the first Latino to be a head coach, also had to wait 20 years to be immortalized in the Hall of Fame.
With that said, there are still Raiders on the outside looking in, including the topic of today’s article, Lester Hayes.
Lester Hayes: The Greatest Hall of Fame Snub In Raiders History
Lester Hayes, “The Judge,” spent all ten of his seasons in the NFL with the Raiders. During that time, he was a one-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time Super Bowl Champion. In 1980, not only did his league-high 13 interceptions set the record for most in a season post-merger (a record that stands today), but he won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He was the starting corner on the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1980s as well. On top of that, he was a crucial part of Flores’s Super Bowl teams.
On paper, an obvious Hall of Famer. His accolades stack up well next to the likes of Ty Law, Roger Wehrli, and Darrell Green. So why isn’t he in? I’ve narrowed it down to three reasons.
The Raiders and the Hall of Fame
As mentioned, the Raiders have a tough time getting into Canton. Stabler and Branch, two of the best players of the 1970’s, didn’t get to give their speeches because of the voters. Tom Flores, someone who broke down barriers and won multiple Super Bowls, needed a beer campaign to get in. Tim Brown, who retired second in receiving yards and third in both receptions and touchdowns, was eligible for six years before he was enshrined. One of the best tight ends of his time, Todd Christensen, probably won’t hear his name called. Jim Plunkett will almost certainly be the only quarterback to win multiple Super Bowls without being inducted, once the media is done praising Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
It’s unlikely that the NFL really still carries a grudge against Al Davis and the Raiders. However, anything is possible. The spotlight placed on the humiliating Jon Gruden situation versus how much the league has protected Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders is damning in its own right.
There’s a real chance that Hayes has been blacklisted because of his connection to Al Davis.
This is the reason that most people will give you. Hayes used Stickum, a sticky substance that made catching the football easier. And sure, it must’ve helped him snag that NFL-record 13 picks, but I have two rebuttals.
Firstly, even if he hid one magnet in the ball and the other under his wristband, he still has to be in position to make the play. Stickum didn’t magically transform him into Spider Man or, as he claimed, a Jedi. His ability to stick with receivers and make a play on the ball was still incredible.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Stickum was legal. Compared to the flytrap gloves that NFL players use today, it was hardly an advantage. However, it was completely allowed at the time. Why is Hayes being retroactively punished for taking advantage of a substance that wasn’t banned?
Sure, his numbers weren’t the same as they were in 1980, and there’s an argument to be made that he wouldn’t have snagged 13 picks without it. But Stickum was legal for every other corner in the NFL and nobody else came close.
The Elephant in The Room
As much as I want to play the Raider card and defend his use of Stickum, it still doesn’t make sense. Because Fred Biletnikoff, a Hall of Fame legend, also infamously used Stickum. Not only was Biletnikoff enshrined, but they named the collegiate award for the best wide receiver after him. So why was he able to get in but Hayes wasn’t?
And it’s not just Biletnikoff. Howie Long didn’t have a hard time getting in. Neither did John Madden. Jim Otto, George Blanda, Ted Hendricks, and Dave Casper all waltzed into Canton. Despite being the league’s biggest “villain,” even Al Davis was able to get a bust in Canton. Stabler’s delay was related to an infamous incident where he planted cocaine in a reporter’s car, but what about Brown, Branch, and Hayes? Why was Howie a shoe in but the Raiders’ all-time sack leader, Greg Townsend, wasn’t?
You don’t want to say that the Hall of Fame voters have an issue with these players that has nothing to do with football, but when you look at all the facts splayed out like this, it’s hard not to wonder.
As old wounds heal, more and more Raiders find peace in Canton. As fans of this iconic franchise, we can only hope that The Judge sticks a bust in Canton before it’s too late.
*Top Photo: Ed Zurgas/Associated Press