I hope I have made it abundantly clear that Abner Haynes deserves to be in the College Football Hall of Fame. His exploits for the North Texas State Eagles in the late 1950s should suffice. Further proof is the fact that the process of racial integration of college football in Texas and throughout the South began with him.
It's all too easy to be skeptical—I am sometimes guilty of it myself—about a guy who excelled at anything less than a 5-star school. The assumption is that he was a man among boys and thus his achievements are not what they appear; since he was outside the mainstream of the sport, his record is not quite legitimate. If he was so good, why was he there? By that measure, Dick “Night Train” Lane and Deacon Jones should never have gotten a chance to play in the National Football League. The former spent one year at a junior college in Nebraska and four in the U.S. Army, and was doing blue-collar work when he decided to try out for the Los Angeles Rams. He became one of the best defensive backs in NFL history. Jones played one year at South Carolina State, was suspended for taking part in a civil rights demonstration, sat out a season and then played one at Mississippi Vocational College. I can scarcely imagine a more obscure institution of higher education. The Rams took him in the 14th round of the 1961 draft and what do you know? He turned into a super-stud defensive end. Both Lane and Jones played for 14 seasons, and both are rightly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Neither, needless to say, is in the College Football Hall of Fame.) Compared to them, Haynes’ college career was big time, glorious and above all stable.
Scouting today is far more comprehensive than in the 1950s. It may be hard to believe, but some teams drafted players sight unseen, basing picks on whether they had been named all-conference or all-America:
“Oh, look! Billy Bob Johnson of Iowa was an all-Big 10 offensive lineman. We need an offensive lineman. Let’s draft him.”
“It says in the newspaper that this quarterback, Jim Anderson, was all-SEC two straight years at Vanderbilt. I bet he’s good. Maybe we should draft him.”
“Our owner is a graduate of Texas A&M. The Aggies have a linebacker who made all-SWC and second-team all-American. What’s his name? Steve Smith. I think we should draft him. The boss would like that.”
“Hey, Joe Chryzshmelz was a big star at Notre Dame. Why don’t we draft him?”
Haynes’ credentials—two times all-Missouri Valley Conference—must not have impressed the men whose jobs it was then to draft prospective pro football players. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL took him in the fifth round, and the Oakland Raiders of the fledgling AFL also used their fifth pick on Haynes. The Dallas Texans worked a trade that would enable him to play at home, and Haynes signed with Lamar Hunt’s club. Not only was it a new franchise, but the entire league was new. There was chaos everywhere, and the future was never certain. Dallas was no exception. Haynes, a highly motivated young man who was determined to make the team, would not be distracted. On the practice field and in the early pre-season games, he was one of many contenders for a starting spot in the Texans' backfield. Hank Stram and the other coaches seemed to hope that Jack Spikes or Johnny Robinson would be the main running back. Spikes hailed from TCU and Robinson from LSU, schools that were not close to integrating. Whether Hunt, Stram et al. liked it or not, Haynes proved beyond any doubt that he was the guy.
Joining him on the 35-man roster were three fellow African-Americans (Clem Daniels, Dave Webster and Walter Napier). The rest were European-American. The crosstown Dallas Cowboys also had four black players (Don Bishop, Frank Clarke, Woodley Lewis and Nate Borden) in 1960, and the Houston Oilers had two (John White and Julian Spence). Obviously, Hunt, Cowboys owner Clint Murchison and Oilers owner Bud Adams were very conscious of the racial makeup of their teams. "Not too many" may have been their watchword.
What an impact Haynes had! He led the league in rushing (870 yards) and punt returns (15.4-yard average) in 1960 and was named both player of the year and rookie of the year. Haynes scored a staggering 44 touchdowns his first three seasons, two more than Jim Brown when he started out with the Cleveland Browns. He took part in just one post-season game in his career, the Texans' dramatic double-OT victory over the Oilers to win the 1962 AFL crown. Haynes went with the franchise to Kansas City in '63 and spent his waning years with the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. Who holds the AFL's record for all-purpose yardage with 12,065 (rushing, receiving and kick returns)? You know.
Those early years of the AFL were pretty hit-and-miss, as players (and coaches) came and went, and franchises moved or hung on for dear life. What the league most needed was a quality product, and no player provided that more than Haynes. The AFL derived credibility from guys like him. I dare say some NFL teams saw what he did with the Texans and wished they had drafted and signed him.
Haynes, who never earned more than $25,000 in a season, later served as an agent for some 90 NFL players, was an executive for the Zale Corporation and runs the Abner Haynes Heroes of Football Foundation. It serves to assist retired pro players dealing with injuries and conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy. A recent study of 91 retired players showed that 87 of them had it to some degree.
This summary of Haynes' pro career has been compiled because it validates what he did at North Texas State. If he had been just a good player among lousy players there, he would have made no headway in the pros. The National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame put no stock in how well a guy did after leaving the amateur ranks, or whether he played at all. Pete Dawkins, Army’s 1958 consensus all-American and Heisman Trophy winner, chose to forgo pro football for the life of a scholar, military man and Wall Street financier. Dawkins, by the way, is in the College Football Hall of Fame (class of 1975). I give you another example. Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker was a consensus A-A and won the Heisman in 1962. His pro career—three seasons for the Rams in which he scarcely got off the bench—marked him as a flop. Good gosh a'mighty, he had been the number one pick in the NFL draft! I cannot help but wonder whether Baker was really so great in college. Of course, he got into the CFHOF (class of 1982).
Somebody in LA didn't do his homework on Terry Baker. If, by contrast, a scouting report had been done on Haynes before the 1960 draft, it might have read like this: "Has good size and excellent speed. Is a very elusive runner and can catch pitchouts and downfield passes with aplomb. Not afraid to block the biggest defenders. Versatile, in that he can run back punts and kickoffs. Would also make an outstanding DB. Haynes has no downside and should be a fine pro."
I simply do not understand how Abner Haynes, who faced obstacles every step of the way and overcame them all, is not in the CFHOF. It's true that he did not make first-team all-America but through no fault of his own. Nor can he be blamed for going to a middling place like North Texas State, since the coaches at all the big schools in Texas were willfully blind to his exceptional talent. Jim Crow called the shots in those days.