OXNARD — The Raiders didn't realize it at the time but they were getting a good deal more than a football player when they were signing the Right Honorable Lester Hayes, Esq.
Lester, you see, sees into the future.
Oh, he's not Nostradamus or Jeane Dixon. Hayes stops well short of world wars but he's very good at Super Bowls. He can't tell you who Elizabeth Taylor is going to marry next but he can predict a quarterback's move to a fixed certainty and foretell exactly how many yards any given fullback will make over tackle.
Hayes doesn't have to turn out the lights and rap on any tables to get his visions, he only has to close his eyes and turn down the stereo.
Of course, there are doubters. It pains him to think there are people like that abroad in the world but it must be remembered that Joan of Arc had her detractors, too. If Hayes had been around, he might very well have spared the Titanic the necessity of that fatal sail, or at least persuaded management to put on more lifeboats.
"It's a gift I've had since I was a little child," Hayes assures, lest anyone think it's something he dreamed up to make the pages of the National Enquirer.
Strictly speaking, Lester says, he never was a child. He was born old and so, now, in the full powers of his wisdom and knowledge, he may be anything from 28 to 200. People who can strip the veil from the future do not trouble themselves with calendars.
Hayes did predict a national calamity of a sort. But Lester did see clearly the collapse of Washington in the winter of '84. He might have missed Watergate 10 years earlier but he was right on top of the Redskins' collapse. He predicted their demise almost to a T. Or at least a TD.
Hayes prognosticated a score of 40-10, Raiders, on the eve of Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa. The score, in case you've forgotten, was 38-9.
Hayes' visions have a margin of three points for error, which is pretty good when you figure that Nostradamus didn't always guarantee the right century for his. Like all prophets, Lester was right in the essentials.
"I am blessed," he says modestly. "In 1975, I discovered I have this power of clairvoyancy. I was on the Texas A&M team and we were going to play this Texas team which had Mr. Earl Campbell in the backfield. Mr. Campbell had been in the habit of gaining 150-175 yards a game but I had this insight and I made the simple statement that Mr. Earl Campbell would gain only 20-25 yards."
One of the things the Swami Hayes can do that other seers can't, is get in on the prophecy fulfilling himself. Nostradamus, in the 16th Century, had minimal control over what might happen to his predictions a millennium hence but Hayes was not only on the scene, he played an active role in the carrying out of his predictions.
The Texas A&M team that stopped Earl Campbell, for instance, played a nine-man front in that game and Hayes, a linebacker, was part of the nine.
"We stuffed him," Hayes recalls with some satisfaction. Campbell gained 24 yards, as he recalls it.
Lester's occult powers occasionally short out, he admits. When he was drafted by the Raiders and they decided to change him into a cornerback, Hayes had only visions of failure. He had a clear insight into the frailties of coaches.
"In high school, I was a 4.4 runner in the 40 yards and I was a pulling guard--a pulling guard mind you--blocking for ballcarriers who couldn't run 4.7," he said. "Let's say the coach was no Bill Walsh."
When John Madden, then the Raider coach, wanted to make Hayes a cornerback, Lester thought Madden was no Bill Walsh, either.
"I thought I would be on the first 747 back to Texas," he said. "I was learning the fourth new position in five years. The possibilities were fraught with danger." Lester talks like that.
Instead, Hayes came to enjoy the position immensely. For one thing, it gave full range to his aggressive instincts which in those days were considerable.
"We didn't have the five-yard, one-bump rule on wide receivers," he recalled, cheered by the memory. A defensive back in those days could do everything to you that a park mugger or nightclub bouncer could do. "The idea was to get him to take alternate routes," Hayes said. "I was the Larry Holmes of the defensive backs."
The league later restricted the degree of legalized mayhem that could be practiced on pass receivers so Hayes turned his attention from strong-arm robbery of the football to more subtle forms of thievery. He began to get the football by stealth, like a cat burglar or an international jewel thief. He stole 13 passes in 1980, and has 33 interceptions to show for his nine-year career.
"They began to perceive me as a very dangerous criminal," he said with some satisfaction. "Intimidation was my forte. The fear factor was a part of my arsenal. I tended to materialize around the ball."
Added Lester: "Don't misunderstand me. Without that front seven playing in front of you, you are not going to get to ply your trade. You could get four guys who could all run 4.1's and catch a ball in the dark but if you have an inferior defensive line in front of them, their destiny will be the California State Hospital. There is a great deal of mental stress where the pass rush fails."
Hayes' faculty for clairvoyance does not extend to what will happen in the Middle East, when Mt. St. Helens will blow again, or whom will win the Democratic nomination in 1988. Even the Super Bowl has not yet come into focus. But the Raiders are another matter. Lester has them on screen. "The Raiders will be 12 and 4," he forecasts. Then, he adds: "If they stay healthy."
Somehow that sounds more like a football coach than Madame Lazonga. After all, the guys who predicted that Germany would win the war had that hedge.