Lester: A Raider for life | NevadaAppeal.com

Lester: A Raider for life

Dave Price

Loyalty is an important word to Lester Hayes, especially when you’re talking about loyalty to team.

No wonder the former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders star cornerback – five times named All-Pro during a career that spanned between 1977 and 1986 – seemed to be enjoying himself so much Sunday night during the Carson City Raiders Booster Club’s annual Christmas Commitment fund-raiser held at the Piñon Plaza.

“It’s so impressive to see such intense Silver and Black in Carson City,” Hayes said during a break from signing autographs and posing for photographs with fans who were watching the Raiders play the Denver Broncos. “Raider fans are so loyal. I just love them.”

Now 49, Hayes still looks fit enough to have put on the pads and helped the Raiders play in the snow Sunday night in their game against AFC West rival Denver. No way, he confided.

“I am 49 years young,” Hayes said with a laugh. “I cannot run, I cannot play, everything clicks. It’s all pain, pain, pain, pain …”

Hayes inflicted a considerable amount of pain during a career in which he helped the Raiders to victory in the 1980 and 1984 Super Bowl games. His best season came in 1980 when he intercepted 18 passes, five during the postseason. He returned two of those 18 interceptions for touchdowns.

Hayes, a finalist in voting for the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001, obviously has a lot of fond memories from those days.

“In our time period, the old days in the ’70s and ’80s, that was a brutal game,” he said, smiling. “It was real smashmouth football.”

Then again, there was no other way to play for Al Davis.

“It was always important, no matter who you played, you wanted to blow up the opponent,” Hayes said. “That was Mr. Davis’ creed and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that. I’m a Raider for life.”

That may not have been the case in 1977 when he was drafted out of Texas A&M as an All-American strong safety.

“When I met coach John Madden, I said, ‘Please let me play strong safety.’ He told me, ‘Let me give you a great tip, son – you watch Willie Brown.’ I didn’t want to play cornerback; I didn’t want to play bump and run. Of course, coach Madden did not let me play strong safety and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I had a coach, (Raiders’ defensive coordinator) Charlie Sumner, who was a genius when it came to tactics and strategy. You’ve got to have tactics and strategy to be successful,” he added, flashing his two Super Bowl rings. “He gave me confidence; he made me a great player.”

While still a loyal Raider, Hayes is also a loyal Texas A&M Aggie. And you’d better believe he was watching Friday when Texas A&M lost to Texas 26-13 in a rivalry that dates back to 1894.

“This (rivalry) is the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos times 10,” said Hayes, a product of Wheatley High School in Houston. “At Texas A&M, we’re taught on the first day, beat Texas.”

No matter what the colors, there is one constant about football as far as Hayes is concerned. It’s a team game.

“I love the team concept,” Hayes said. “If there’s one thing that gets on my last nerve, it’s those young boys you hear now talking about how, ‘I scored’ or ‘I did that.’ It saddens me when I see that, I change the channel. You hear a lot about me and I, but football is based on teams and teammates. There’s no ‘I’ in team. I still always think, team, and I’m thankful for that.”

More than 100 fans turned out and raised $1,042 for the Raiders Booster Club Christmas fund-raiser. Funds will be used to adopt homebound senior citizens for Christmas.

Hayes also took in funds from his own memorabilia sale that go to the March of Dimes.

Contact Dave Price at dprice@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-1220.