Finally. The defining moment.
After a 34-year wait—capped by a seven-year posthumous push—former Dallas Cowboys receiver Bob Hayes had at long last earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hayes was one of the NFL's most transcendent athletes, his blazing speed leading to two Olympic gold medals, a Super Bowl ring and the evolution of zone defense by secondaries that couldn't cover him man-to-man.
Despite the delay—Hayes retired in 1975 and died in 2002—his enshrinement was justified and glorified.
On the eve of last week's Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, 69-year-old Lucille Hester strode to the press conference podium to honor her baby brother and, in the process, capture the attention and hearts of the crowded room and a national television audience. Sporting a Cowboys silver cap emblazoned with the red and blue letters "BOB HAYES," Hester produced a letter her brother had written for her in 1999 just in case this climactic day ever arrived.
With grace, elegance and uncanny composure, Hester read:
You know I am not sure I am going to be around if I will get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame...Mother said you would do what I want because you always did. So read this for me.
The letter, which thanked Hayes' Cowboys teammates, the City of Dallas and, in fact, "everyone in the whole world," was dated October 29, 1999, and signed "Bob Hayes."
There wasn't a dry eye in the house or a neck void of goose bumps in front of any TV.
Hester's moment was eloquent. It was compelling. It was poignant. It was...
Yep, as artificial as Pamela Anderson's cleavage. As disingenuous as Alex Rodriguez's statistics.
Sorry to pooh-pooh the party, but I've got a better chance of eating Mary Magdalene-shaped pancakes aboard a UFO in Stephenville than of Hester telling the whole truth and nothing but.
Hester has since downshifted her familial tie to "half-sister." She now claims her foster parents' names are somehow on her birth certificate. And she has become foggy on the details of the letter.
She might eventually pass a DNA test. But from the start Hester didn't pass the smell test.
"She's a fake. A phony. A total perpetrator," Hayes' former Florida A&M buddy, longtime best friend and business manager, Ted McIntosh, said in Dallas the morning after Hester's acceptance speech. "She isn't a member of the Hayes family. And she's about to be exposed. When all is said and done the family will press criminal charges.
"She's stolen from them, including that magic moment on Saturday."
Sure enough, the woman claiming to speak for the former World's Fastest Human pulled a fast one. On everyone from Hayes' family to the local media to the Cowboys to a billion-dollar NFL company with FBI-level security.
Said McIntosh: "She's duped a lot of folks. She's clever."
Lucille Hester, according to Hayes' friends and family, grew up in the same Jacksonville, Florida, neighborhood as Bob but didn't surface until he was on his deathbed, and she produced a will purportedly signed by him. According to McIntosh, that will, which was contested and never executed, constitutes fraud and forgery.
At the very least Hester has misrepresented her familial relationship; anointed herself as Hayes' spokeswoman without authorization; and excluded family members from news, achievements and, yes, press conferences surrounding Bob Hayes.
Says Hayes' brother, Ernest: "She's just making up her own story."
Says Hayes' ex-wife, Janice: "He always told me she was his 'play-sister.' But never his real sister, no."
Says Hayes' daughter, Westine: "If she's really part of our family, why didn't she tell us to come to Tampa? We're only three-and-a-half hours away here in Jacksonville. Why? It's because she wants all the attention for herself."
Half-sister. Play-sister. Stepsister. Twisted sister. Impostor. Phony. Opportunist. Of all the things Hester has been called in the last week, loquacious isn't among them.
The Monday after the Super Bowl, she granted an interview with The Michael Irvin Show on 103.3 FM ESPN. When asked by Irvin if she was indeed Bob Hayes' sister, Hester replied, "Yes." Pushed for clarity, she offered, "Same dad...and we kinda all had different moms." Her mother? "Her name was Ruth Wise, I think."
Asked by Irvin for her reaction to the Hayes family's displeasure with her for being at the forefront of Bob's Hall of Fame acceptance, Hester feigned ignorance.
"I thought I heard something about that," she said. "But I didn't pay no attention. I guess I should have, huh? I don't know. Hmm."
Later Hester's Washington, D.C.-based attorney—Laura E. Jordan— released a statement which began "First of all, Bob Hayes is my brother..." and ended without addressing the Hall of Fame letter.
I had requested an interview with Hester, but she didn't respond before deadline.
Like the Hayes family tree, Hester's tale is an entangled creature with intertwined vines and bundled branches that may or may not have validity. There's no denying she had a relationship with Hayes. That he introduced her as his sister to Cowboys teammates such as Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill and even former Director of Player Personnel Gil Brandt. And that she had a positive impact on Hayes' Hall of Fame journey.
But at some point Bullet ended and her bullshit began. At some point her dubious actions, though fueled by the best intentions, escalated into Rosie Ruiz. And, at some point, she did more harm to Hayes' legacy than good.
That point is the preposterous letter.
I'm not a CSI expert trained in handwriting analysis, but isn't it obvious? Consistently throughout a study of Hayes' signed memorabilia, his autograph includes a loop in the B's straight line in Bob and a contiguous H in Hayes. The letter, in stark contrast, includes a signature with a loop in the B's bottom bubble and a block H. Maybe Hayes signed Lucille's letter left-handed and blindfolded.
Or perhaps he didn't sign it—or read it—at all.
If so, wouldn't he have caught the "thanks" to someone named Roger Stauback? Wouldn't he have noticed the misspelling of his own high school—"Mathew" instead of "Matthew"? And what of the letter's font, a Calibri type not made available to the public by Microsoft until 2007—a fact exposed in a February 5 story in The Dallas Morning News.
Through her attorney, Hester maintains Hayes gave her the letter in Washington, D.C., in 1999. She said she doesn't remember who typed it or when, only that she and two witnesses watched him sign it before she put the letter in a desk drawer.
Last weekend at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, the Hayes family found a temporary resolution if not a permanent closure. Face to face at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with Hayes' only son—Bob Hayes Jr.— Hester apparently backed down and agreed to step aside.
According to McIntosh, it will be Bob Jr.—and not Lucille—who on August 8 in Canton, Ohio, will unveil Hayes' Hall of Fame bust and accept his gold jacket.
"He'll be front and center, not her," McIntosh said last Saturday. "That's all the family has ever wanted. It's what Bob Hayes would've wanted."