During the prime of his NFL career, Mike Haynes could stare down the likes of Joe Theismann and John Riggins and not blink.
His singular focus helped make Haynes one of the NFL’s most valuable defensive players of his era in the 1980s, helping lead the Los Angeles Raiders to a Super Bowl XVIII championship over the Washington Redskins.
It wasn’t until he was in the confines of a doctor’s office where the larger-than-life NFL Hall of Famer, who lives in Del Mar, met moments that to this day he can’t account for.
Haynes was with his wife, Gigi, awaiting prostate cancer test results.
“When the doctor says your test results are positive I was lucky to have my wife with me in the room because I didn’t hear anything he said for probably the next five to 10 minutes,” Haynes said.
Haynes, who is now 62 was 55 at the time of his diagnosis. He has since undergone successful treatment and is now promoting awareness of the disease as a spokesman for the NFL, which has teamed up with the Urology Care Foundation (the official foundation of the American Urological Association).
The awareness campaign is in conjunction with June’s Men’s Health Month.
“If you’ve never had that experience you don’t know what it is until you experience it yourself,” Haynes said. “My life kind of flashed ahead of me to where you’re thinking about family, different things I wanted to do and things I wanted to do for them, all kinds of things.
“It caught me off guard. I was not really ready for this.”
The diagnosis came as a surprise to Haynes, who followed a healthy lifestyle program almost to the letter after his retirement from the NFL.
“I was getting up every day and doing a little exercise, doing a little yoga and eating healthy meals, getting good sleep,” Haynes said. “You feel like you’re doing a lot of things to help you live a long time and then when you get news like that you realize, ‘Wow,’ you do those things because you want to live a long time, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will. That was a shock.”
Haynes made an immediate impact in the NFL. He was named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1976 with the New England Patriots and in 1984 playing for the Raiders he was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Other honors include being named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the 1980s All-Decade team.
The former Arizona State standout became the first person in his family to graduate from college.
“You realize that when you go through situations like this that all these different things that you’re super proud of don’t really matter” when you’re diagnosed with a disease such as prostate cancer, Haynes said.
The father of six had three young children at the time of his diagnosis. His oldest son, Tate, will be a senior this fall at Cathedral Catholic High School, where he plays quarterback. His daughter, Ivy, is a lacrosse player at Del Norte who’ll be a sophomore later this year, and his youngest son, Rex, is in middle school.
“I just wanted to see them grow up and go to college and be good people,” Haynes said. “I didn’t want to leave my wife in a horrible situation.
“Even though doctors were saying ‘Mike you caught it early, you’re lucky. Don’t worry,’” Haynes said, “I just thought they were being nice.”
Haynes’ doctors’ weren’t just being nice. Their prognosis proved to be accurate.
Haynes’ experience with prostate cancer, however, compelled him to take on his new role raising awareness about the life-threatening disease that he acknowledged he knew little about before the diagnosis.
Haynes pointed to some alarming statistics, noting that one in seven men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, and more than twice that many African-American men (one in 2-and-a-half) will develop the disease.
He said it’s important that one takes care of their health, but also important to know one’s risk factors, including family history.
Even more important, Haynes said, is to be proactive.
“Get your robes on guys and get out there and get tested,” Haynes said,