Once again, the man who has been voted least likely to win the NFL's Goodwill Ambassador of the Year award is Denver Broncos cornerback Mark (Iceman) Haynes.
Comeback of the Year, maybe.
Glad-hander of the Year, not a chance.
Publicly, Haynes is as warm as a DMV clerk. Haynes rarely gives interviews. Haynes never makes appearances. Haynes rarely smiles in public. Haynes rarely talks in public. Forget that. Haynes rarely talks, period. "I even sometimes call him the Iceman," says his wife, Vicki. "I'm the one who always wants to talk."
February 1, 1988
Haynes's face is the equivalent of a NO SOLICITORS sign. His eyebrows are thick and forbidding. His stare is almost always over there, even when you're talking to him over here. His Fu is serious. His lips are tight. The whole package makes Haynes look as approachable as a customs agent.
"I'm a straight-ahead guy," he says. "If you say you're going to be one way, don't be left of it or right of it." Or, as one of Haynes's old coaches puts it, "If you tell Mark it's going to rain, it better rain." Haynes is to small talk what David Letterman is to orthodontics.
So how come Dennis Raetz, who was Haynes's football coach back at Harmon High in Kansas City, Kans., says Haynes never fails to send something to Raetz's children on their birthdays? And how come Ray Perkins, former New York Giants coach, called him a "top-drawer individual"? And how come Giants tight end Zeke Mowatt says if he were ever in trouble, "Mark would be there for me. He's a class act"? And how many people know what he has been through with Jasmine? Says Raetz, now the head coach at Indiana State, "It takes a long time to get to know him, but once you do, he's one of the warmest people you'll ever meet."
Tell it to the NFL. Haynes, 29, is about as popular in NFL front offices as another antitrust suit. After three Pro Bowl years with the Giants, he held out before signing a contract for 1985 and pretty much forced a trade before the following season. He went to the Broncos, who after one season figured that they had paid too much and might have given him the boot if Louis Wright hadn't unexpectedly retired last summer. Haynes admits, "I was gone." The Bronco powers that be ought to bronze the trade papers because Haynes played a crucial role in getting their team to a second straight Super Bowl.
"Without Haynes, I don't think we'd have made it," says Broncos coach Dan Reeves. Those words probably hit a few speed bumps coming out of the throat of Reeves, who understands Haynes not a whit. As a player with the Dallas Cowboys, Reeves was a hurl-your-body-any-time-anywhere guy. Haynes is a save-it-for-Sunday guy.
"I'd love for him to be a hardworking practice player," says Reeves. "But that's not the way he is. I've got to accept him that way or he won't be part of the team."
Says Haynes, "He wants me to be Mr. Bronco. Well, I'm not going to be."
And now, after his remarkable season, it looks as if Haynes won't have to be. That's a very long way from where Haynes was when the season began.
He had come to Denver in time for the 1986 campaign, in exchange for two second-round choices and a sixth. Immediately he disappointed Reeves. For one thing, Reeves says, "He wasn't in very good shape." For another, he wasn't making the adjustment from left corner to right corner. The former was Haynes's fault, the latter Denver's.
"I can't play the right corner," Haynes says. "I just can't." That has been proved. An All-America left corner as a senior at Colorado in 1979, he was taken by the Giants in the first round and flipped to right corner, where he flopped. It took an injury to Terry Jackson, the starting left corner, to give Haynes a P.O. box at his real position—and those three Pro Bowl berths.
But when the Giants wouldn't ante up the $2.1 million for three years he was demanding—"what other defensive backs of my stature were making"—Haynes changed agents, hiring Howard Slusher and holding out for 93 days. "That," says Vicki, "is a time of our lives I'd just as soon forget."
That also was when Jasmine, the second of the Hayneses' two daughters, was born 3½ months prematurely. Jasmine weighed just over a pound at birth. Doctors said her chances of survival were 50-50. After Vicki delivered, she had a fever for a week and was not allowed to see the baby. Only Mark saw her.
"I remember that first day I saw her," he says. "She seemed about an inch long. She didn't even seem human, all drawn up like that." Through the ordeal Haynes stayed stoic, just as his own dad would have wanted it. "I never liked my children to make a scene," says Arthur Haynes, father of 11. "Didn't like, them to be too emotional."
"I remember, I'd be lying there in bed, and I'd say, 'Is she going to make it, babe?' " Vicki says. "And Mark would always say, 'Absolutely. No question in my mind.' He was always the strength."
Jasmine made it, but not before suffering numerous seizures, during which she could not breathe on her own. She was on a respirator for more than six months, and today, at two, still receives therapy. (Her sister, Iman, is four.)
Jasmine's hospital bills were the main reason that Haynes ended his holdout with the Giants. He signed a one-year deal with the team for $400,000 for '85, but he was not a happy camper. After that, "He never looked like he was giving you an effort," Giant tight end Mark Bavaro told the Rocky Mountain News last summer. "He obviously was unhappy. He wanted to get out."
The good news is, Denver traded for him, and his four-year contract is worth a reported $2.5 million. The bad news is, the Broncos stuck him at right corner-back again. He still couldn't play the position. That first year, 1986, he sat out half the season on injured reserve with a muscle pull in his right thigh. When he was able to play, he was backup to cornerback Mike Harden. Somebody asked Haynes if he was a nickelback. "Nickelback? I'm a pennyback," he said.
Just hours before kickoff at last year's Super Bowl game between his present and former clubs, Haynes talked to the Giants' coaching staff about the possibility of his rejoining the team. Nothing came of it, and then, to cap off a dismal year, Haynes had to suffer through the Giants' 39-20 defeat of the Broncos. "That week was embarrassing," Haynes says. "The Giants guys remembered me when I was at the top of my game, and now, here I was, and I couldn't start. And then to lose. I mean, to lose to Buffalo or something is no big deal. But to lose to your friends, that really hurt."
Not only was he unhappy, he was disconnected from his team. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen once called Haynes "an outsider" who "hasn't quite fit in." Haynes buys that, even today. "An outsider? Yeah, I like that. I don't want to be an insider. I don't hang around with a lot of football players. I think most football players are one-dimensional.... I like to be around well-rounded people."
After the Super Bowl, muffled drumbeats were heard. "I was going to be traded," Haynes says. "No question in my mind." Well, not exactly. Early in training camp Reeves moved Haynes to the left side to see if he could beat out Wright, the immensely popular five-time All-Pro.
Not many folks in Denver would have missed Haynes if he had gotten the ax. His lack of gregariousness was one thing, and it further hurt that his off-season home is in Upper Saddle River, N.J. Even John Elway took heat his first two years in Denver until he moved there. Haynes has a hard time understanding a town that would send more than 63,000 people to Mile High Stadium just to wish their team well before the trip to Pasadena for the Super Bowl last season. "They [Broncos fans] remind me of religious zealots in the Middle East. I mean, come on, they put way too much emphasis on the Broncos here."
That's a zing for the members of the Denver media, too, some of whom wear orange-and-blue-tinted glasses. If a Bronco story doesn't lead the sportscast on most Denver TV stations, somebody big better have died. "They want you to do interviews around the clock, every day," says Haynes, who has refused to be interviewed since Super Bowl XXI. "I can't concentrate on my job. Since I stopped doing interviews, I feel so much better about my game and myself."
Haynes realizes that his silence might hurt him. Exhibit A: When Haynes gave up two touchdown passes in an exhibition game against Miami last August, the Rocky Mountain News ran a cartoon that showed a trampled Haynes lying on the goal line with a welcome mat on his chest and the caption: "Some performances speak for themselves."
Says Haynes, "Look, these are National Enquirer papers in this town.... It has become a personal vendetta to crucify me for their personal beliefs. I don't know why. I've done nothing objectionable. I haven't landed in jail. I haven't abused anything or anybody."
Haynes's coolness to the press isn't what nettled Reeves. He had his own gripes. Haynes didn't participate in the Broncos' conditioning program this season ("I don't like talky-talky workouts," he says), and most of all, Haynes didn't practice hard. If a sweep went to the opposite side, Haynes wouldn't pursue. If the pattern was deep, Haynes would stay with his man through the man's move but let the receiver run for the ball by himself. If most NFL players are like the family dog, falling all over themselves to win affection, Haynes is the family cat, coolly uninterested.
Says Haynes, "If I'm on a receiver and he makes a break and my footwork is down and my timing is right, then that's all I care about.... I do exactly what I need to do to get ready for the game." And the point is, as Mowatt says, "When Sunday comes, Mark pushes a different button."
It is a world-class button. Haynes has been so good this year that, as much as he was disfavored, he might have beaten out Wright. He played flawlessly through the regular season and, when the playoffs came, went flawlessly one better. He was the Super Collider in the win over Houston, wiping out the Oilers' receivers like bugs hitting a windshield, intercepting Warren Moon in the end zone and returning the ball 57 yards to help ice the 34-10 victory. "Anybody who wants to question my heart ought to look at these game films," he told ESPN's Jim Gray afterward. Somebody must have, because Haynes was chosen Most Valuable Player.
Characteristically Haynes accepted the honor with a minimum of jubilation. "I took it with a grain of salt," he says. "I've had games when I've totally shut down a receiver. Had no balls thrown even near him and didn't get a game ball. But you make one interception and...."
Is this guy his own man or what? Like him or loathe him, Haynes is back in all his no-nonsense glory. "A lot of the time the reason a player leaves is because of politics," he says. "But I don't worry about it. I have enough confidence that I think I can play anywhere."
It's a dulcet victory. Haynes has come back for a team and a town he is sure didn't want him. And there are a few things he would like to say. Were the Broncos disappointed they didn't get to trade him? "Yeah, somewhat. But they won't admit it." What really galls him is that the Broncos have never said they messed up by trying to make him a right corner. "They never did say, 'Maybe we had him in the wrong position.' At least the Giants admitted they had me in the wrong place."
Haynes is also bemused to see that the Denver citizenry is talking about him like he's next in line to get his own downtown statue. "It's amazing to me the transformation people have gone through here in regard to their relationship with me," he says. "I don't like two-faced people. Be one way all the time, or don't be anything at all."
But that's over with. He's happy and he's playing. Now all he wants is: 1) a Super Bowl ring and 2) reinstatement as an All-Pro. As to No. 1, he says, "I'd love to win this Super Bowl, because it would give me great pride and satisfaction to have contributed to a team that didn't have enough confidence in me." As to No. 2: "I think I'm an All-Pro, I'm that caliber. I know that All-Pro is mostly based on how much pub you get. But sooner or later they've got to give me the recognition—whether I talk or not."
Would you bet against him?