EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an occasional series on the history of the Raiders.
In 2019, three players shared the NFL lead in interceptions with six. But there was a time in which a half-dozen picks wouldn’t have registered on the leaderboard at all.
In 1980, Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes set a modern-day record with 13 interceptions in a season. Dick “Night Train” Lane still holds the record with 14 in 1952. But since the turn of the century, no NFL player has registered more than 10 interceptions in a season.
That’s likely at least in part Hayes’ fault. A five-time Pro Bowler from 1980 to 1984, Hayes became famous for taking the use of Stickum — a gooey, brown substance that helped receivers get the ball to stick to their hands — to an extreme. Similar use by wide receivers limited the opportunities for cornerbacks such as Hayes to make interceptions, even if he benefited as well, lathering the substance basically all over his body — hands, forearms, jersey, wherever else you may think.
There are plenty of pictures of Hayes with Stickum oozing off him. But Hayes used the stuff not so much to make interceptions but to allow him to keep his hands on receivers to disrupt the timing on their routes.
“The sole focus of our team was to win consistently,” Hayes told ESPN in 2007. “Whether it was a mental or a physical advantage, we were going to do whatever was necessary to win. Our attitude was that if we could get away with something, we were going to do it.”
Whatever the strategy, it certainly worked. Hayes recorded 25 interceptions from 1977 to 1980, including his franchise-record 13 in 1980. The Raiders won the Super Bowl that season over the Eagles, and Hayes was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.
But after that, the NFL banned the use of Stickum with what is now commonly referred to as the “Lester Hayes Rule.” Even today, Rule 5, Section 4, Article 4, Item 8 of the NFL rulebook bans, “Adhesive or slippery substances on the body, equipment, or uniform of any player; provided, however, that players may wear gloves with a tackified surface if such tacky substance does not adhere to the football or otherwise cause handling problems for players.”
While Hayes never had more than four interceptions in a season for the rest of his career after the Stickum ban, he was still known as one of the NFL’s premier shutdown corners. But even Hayes admitted in the 2007 ESPN interview that he benefited tremendously from using Stickum.
“I’m thankful I played during the 1970s and 1980s because I was part of some great Raiders teams,” he said. “But if I had been born in 1985 instead of 1955, everything would’ve been different. I would’ve been one of those defensive backs you see chasing receivers every Sunday on ‘SportsCenter.’ I have no question about that.”
Nevertheless, Hayes is undoubtedly one of the most important players in Raiders history. He played 10 seasons with the Raiders between Oakland and Los Angeles, also winning the Super Bowl in the 1983 season. He’s tied with Hall of Famer Willie Brown for the franchise lead with 39 career interceptions.
But Hayes, now 65, remains out of the Hall of Fame, likely at least in part because of his history with Stickum and how it helped him make plays.