Following the 1980 season, the NFL owners voted to ban the use of foreign substances such as Stickum. It was not good news for Oakland Raiders’ cornerback Lester Hayes.
A shutdown cornerback out of Texas A&M, Hayes spent ten years with the Raiders and is tied with Willie Brown for the franchise record for career interceptions . Twenty-five of those picks came in his first four seasons in the league. In 1980, Hayes was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 13 interceptions, then added five more in the postseason en route to Oakland’s win in Super Bowl XV. He never had more than four in any season after the Stickum rule – later dubbed the Lester Hayes Rule — was implemented.
As a rookie in 1977, Hayes was introduced to Stickum by Raider wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who led the NFL in receptions in 1971. Biletnikoff had pioneered the use of Stickum in the NFL, applying the gooey, brownish-yellow substance on the fronts of his game socks. “Try that, rookie,” said Biletnikoff, who months earlier had made four Stickum-aided receptions for 79 yards while being named MVP of Super Bowl XI.
Hayes’ 13 interceptions were the most in the NFL since Dick “Night Train” Lane had 14 in 1952.
Not only did the sticky stuff help Hayes pick off the football, it helped him in pass coverage. “We played a bump-and-run defensive technique,” explained Hayes, who was nicknamed Lester the Molester for the way he annoyed receivers. “I discovered the Stickum could help me prolong the bump a second longer. That was very important.”
A former college linebacker trying to latch on as a cornerback in the NFL, Hayes took to Stickum like a bear takes to honey. He made his name with the stuff, rubbing it on his hands, wrists, and forearms. Like a spring-breaker at the beach, Hayes slathered on Stickum with generous abandon. He used so much even his teammates thought he went overboard. “You practically had to pry the ball loose from him whenever he got his hands on it,” said former Raiders Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks.
Stickum is a trademarked adhesive of Wisconsin-based Mueller Sports Medicine. The grip enhancer was developed for use in various athletic applications. It is available in powder, paste or aerosol spray forms. The paste – a blob-like gelatin — can assist with catching balls and is used by weightlifters. The spray form is ideal for bat handles and vaulting poles.
The banishment of Stickum after the 1980 season really had an impact on Hayes, who admitted he became “a mere mortal” after the league outlawed the substance.
The NFL’s drive to outlaw Stickum stemmed largely from complaints by offensive players, especially quarterbacks who found it difficult to pass and handle a tacky football. League officials found the solvent used to remove Stickum from the football made it slippery. In addition, the image-conscious NFL wasn’t particularly pleased with all the television shots of Hayes covered with the gooey substance. At the owner’s meetings in March 1981, the Lester Hayes Rule was one of ten new rules voted in by NFL leaders.
In February 2015, Jerry Rice, the NFL’s all-time leading receiver, admitted to using Stickum on his gloves – a substance that was banned by the NFL four years before Rice joined the league. “I know this might be a little illegal, guys,” said Rice, “I just put a little spray, a little Stickum on them, to make sure that texture is a little sticky.” He admitted to using the aerosol version [Hayes used paste] all through his career and claimed, “all players did it.”
Rice’s comments sparked controversy. Many believed his receiving records had been attained illegally. Two of Rice’s peers – Hall of Fame wideouts Chris Carter and Michael Irvin – vehemently denied ever using the substance. “I didn’t use Stickum,” Irvin told WFAN radio in New York. “I never used Stickum, didn’t need Stickum, didn’t believe in Stickum.” Irvin continued. “I wouldn’t do it. Troy [Aikman] would go off on me if I put Stickum on his footballs.”
Even the NBA has had some sticky situations. In March 2016, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard got busted using Stickum on his hands. Before re-entering a game late in the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks, Howard applied Stickum spray to his hands. After Hawks forward Paul Millsap made the first of two free throws, Howard checked back in and grabbed the ball from the official. When Millsap got the ball back, he immediately questioned what was on it.
Referee crew chief Monty McCutchen went to each bench and issued a warning, telling each team: “Stickum is illegal in the NBA.” Two days later, the league reminded all 30 teams that they only substances allowed to help players with gripping the ball are those that merely dry a player’s hands, such as resin and chalk. “I don’t know why people are making a big deal out of it,” Howard admitted afterward. “I do it every game.”