"Do you know that I have my own film archives?" he says. "I've got films of myself through the years, and I've got films of receivers I've had to cover since I was a rookie in '77. They go way back. Every receiver has certain trademarks, little idiosyncrasies that don't change through the years. If something's gone good for him, he's not going to deviate from it. I've also got a mental chart of every pass pattern I've been beaten on since I started playing in the NFL. Go ahead, ask me about a game."
Broncos in Denver in 1978?
"A live-yard fade to Haven Moses."
Eagles in Philly last year?
"No completions playing in man-to-man coverage."
Jets in Shea in 1977?
"That was my rookie year. I didn't start."
He stares out the window again. "Look," he says, "you think it was easy breaking in here the way I did? I'd been a linebacker in college two years, a safety-man for two. I felt I was the best strong safety in the college draft, but in my first practice session as an Oakland Raider I'm immediately put out in no-man's-land at the corner in man-to-man coverage and told that's where I'd be for the rest of my NFL career. I had very, very strong feelings of insecurity."
Hayes had begun his life in organized football as a guard. It was logical. Louis Hayes, his father, had been an all-state guard on Wheatley's only state championship team, in 1954, and his dad's teammate, George Balthazar, had become—and still is—the line coach at Wheatley. Balthazar remembers Lester as "small and quick with a perfect stance. On defense he played what we called the Anchor End. That was the pass-rushing end. He replaced Godwin Turk, who was later drafted by the Jets. The other end, the Blood End, had to drift out in coverages. With Lester's speed he turned into one of the greatest pass rushers in the city."
"Coach Balthazar had one unusual trait," Hayes says. "When you made a mistake he'd get out this big two-by-four and make you block it. He'd just hold it up in front of him and you'd go at it. It toughened you, all right. It also gave you a set of sore shoulders."