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The Inside Track | Q&A WITH LESTER HAYES

He Still Knows What to Do With a Sentence

January 17, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Lester Hayes, who made five Pro Bowl appearances during a 12-year career as an Oakland and L.A. Raider cornerback, was known as "The Judge" because, according to a poster in the '80s, he sentenced wide receivers to "four quarters of relentless intimidation, bone-jarring hits and masterful interceptions."

Hayes, 47, is still judging, although more gently.

Question: Do you still watch the Raiders?

Answer: Every Raiders' game, I have it on tape. From a defensive mentality, the most important factor is the aggressiveness of the Raiders' defensive coaching staff and the aggressiveness of the Raiders' defensive coordinator.

Q: What do you think of the Raider secondary?

A: Charles Woodson and Tory James are playing like Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes. The fantastic thing is that both cornerbacks are playing with rods in their legs.

Q: Do you miss playing?

A: There are times in which I do get a football jones. When those times take place in my life, I have a tape that is a stupendous movie called "Saving Private Ryan." I pop in that tape and there is Tom Hanks, who is Capt. John Miller, second Ranger Charlie Company. Capt. John Miller is sitting on a ridge in a town called Ramal, France, wounded in battle and there is a tiger tank coming. Capt. John Miller pulls out a .45 caliber pistol and begins firing at the tiger tank coming. Out of the blue comes a P-51 Mustang, and P-51 Mustang is an aircraft known as a Tank Buster.

In my mind, the P-51 Mustang is on a safety blitz and saves the men of Charlie Company's second Rangers. I remember during Super Bowl XV and Super Bowl XVIII that [former Raider defensive coordinator] Charlie "Schwartzkopf" Sumner consistently sent Mike Davis on safety blitzes. By sending safeties on safety blitzes, it kept opposing offenses consistently in fourth-down punting situations.

Q:How are you doing, physically?

A: Right now I am feeling a lot better. In the past 18 months I've had three surgeries for a breathing malfunction that I've had since my childhood. My breathing passages were almost closed.

Q: Does that have anything to do with football?

A: No. This was a case in which my breathing passages were six times smaller than a normal breathing passage. So Mr. [Al] Davis sent me to his personal doctor.

Q: How much contact do you have with the Raiders?

A: At every home game I'm there. The focus of Mr. Davis when I played, and the focus of Mr. Davis in the year 2003 has not changed. Mr. Davis' sole focus is to win a Lombardi Trophy.

Q: What are your days like?

A: My days are spent in Bible study. I would say I spend maybe six hours a day doing that. January 17 of 1994, I lived in Woodland Hills. A 6.9 earthquake rocked Northridge. There was severe damage done to my home in Woodland Hills. I was sent to Modesto for a six-month time period in which it would take for my home to be repaired. That six-month time period has turned into nine years.

I'm a two-time Super Bowl champion, 1980 NFL player of the year, first team All-Decade team, Hall of Fame nominee, but the happiest day of my life was when I learned the destination of forgiveness. That was the reason I was sent to Modesto. I learned that through the six hours of Bible study that I do per day, it changed my life. It felt like a 1,000-pound barbell was lifted off my chest.

On Jan. 16, one day before the Northridge earthquake, you could not have given me a million dollars to move from my home in Woodland Hills. But God had a different plan for my life.

Q: How have the Raiders changed since the old swashbuckling days?

A: In those days, there were a lot of men in the NFL old days that had a mentality of a gladiator. There was a mentality of going on a bicuspid search, a molar search and an incisor search. There was a mentality of, if an opposing player sees his own blood, how would the opposing player react? The focus of that mentality was to bend an opponent's confidence, bend an opponent's courage, and by the fourth quarter look in an opponent's eyes and take his will to fight.

Q: Who is the one current Raider who would best fit in with that group?

A: Easy. It's Bill Romanowski. Bill reminds me a lot of Lyle Alzado. Bill's level of intensity is at 120 decibels before the game ever begins. As far as intensity is concerned, I have never seen a linebacker as intense as Bill Romanowski. Every time that Bill tackles, Bill is on a search and destroy mission.

Q: The 1980 Raiders vs.the 2002-3 Raiders. Who wins?

A: I would take our Super Bowl XV team vs. the 2003 Raiders based upon our defensive coordinator, Charlie "Schwarzkopf" Sumner. There is so much talk now about the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator, Coach [Jim] Johnson. There is so much talk about Coach Johnson's blitz package, but the first defensive coordinator who implemented a consistent blitz package was Coach Charlie "Schwartzkopf" Sumner.

Q: Who would you rather see the Raiders play in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia or Jon Gruden's Buccaneers?

A: It wouldn't matter if the 2003 Raiders played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Philadelphia Eagles or the 1985 Bears. It would not matter, because the 2003 Raiders are a team of destiny.

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