The phone rings in the locker room at the Oakland Raiders' practice facility. Long distance for Lester Hayes.
"Another stickum for you," says the equipment man as he hands the phone to the Raiders' left cornerback.
"Yes," says Hayes, listening and then nodding to the equipment guy to verify the nature of the call. "Uh huh. No, it won't interfere with my intercepting the ball. I've explained this before. The value of the stickum was to prolong the bump in bump-and-run coverage. No, I don't think it'll curtail my effectiveness."
A few more yesses and nos and uhhuhs and the call is over. Hayes puts the phone down and sighs. "Ever since they outlawed stickum in March, that's all I've been asked about. Every 20 minutes. Is this the end of Lester Hayes? I wish they'd talk about the 19 interceptions I had last season."
Hayes speaks slowly and deliberately. Every now and then there's a pause of two or three seconds. What you hear is a triumph, because a year ago Hayes's speaking three or four continuous sentences would have been a feat roughly comparable to his covering John Jefferson after spotting him 10 yards on a deep corner pattern. Hayes's problem was that his brain was racing along at 100 mph while his speech was still in the righthand lane, and the result was a monumental traffic jam at the verbal level. He had a stammer. He says he picked it up as a youngster in Houston, when he started imitating another kid who was a congenital stutterer and one day found that the monkey had been shifted to his own back. Pressure made it worse, and finally last spring he checked into the Communications Research Center at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va. and defeated the thing.
The therapists there slowed Hayes down. They got him to drop his voice level from E pitch to C and gave him a little computerized gadget to monitor his speech pattern. They also performed an invaluable service for the chroniclers of pro football, because when the door was finally unlocked, what stepped out was a man who had a lot to say, and, better yet, a wry, cryptic and at times hilarious way of saying it. For instance:
?On the lack of adjustment in Houston's sluggish, two tight-end offense that was dismantled by the Raider defense in last year's playoffs: "They had no tomfoolery in their scheme of things, no change of venue."
?On Jefferson, formerly of San Diego, now of Green Bay: "He will be the possession receiver for the Packers, the guy to catch the tough one over the middle, although for the life of me I can't picture him performing in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. John Jefferson has been blessed with a great deal of intestinal fortitude. Being an ex-linebacker, I can instill fear in some receivers, but with Jefferson, I can bump him, I can pound him, I can have my Riddell helmet tattooed all over his anatomy, and he will keep coming back with the same zeal."
?On a cornerback's need to constantly change tactics: "If a defensive back allows himself to become homed in on, he will be unemployed in the near future."
?On his senior season at Houston's Wheatley High, when he was a pass-rushing terror as a defensive end: "Have you ever heard of an individual procuring 35 sacks in a single nine-game season? I ran a 4.4 forty and I weighed 197 pounds. I sacked everybody."