Chris Hayes' rookie season in the NFL was an adventure.
Over the course of nine months, he was a late-round draft choice, on the roster of three different teams, helped win a Super Bowl, and became a first-time father, as well.
Selected by the Jets in the seventh round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Washington State, he was second-team All-Pac-10 as a senior.
"There was a scout named Marv Sutherland who had my school's area, Pullman, Washington," Hayes said, "and took the initiative and the extra time to really see me as a safety because I played as an undersized linebacker in college. I was known as a tweener. So, he had me line up and do DB drills.
"When the Jets called, I was excited. Keyshawn Johnson, my hometown friend, was actually the first pick in the draft that year (and was also chosen by the Jets). And I had met (the team's third round pick) Ray Mickens at the East-West Shrine Game, so I was excited about becoming a Jet."
Hayes made it through training camp and most of the preseason before he was waived by New York.
"We were getting ready to play the Raiders (in the final preseason game), and I got released two or three days before the travel date," Hayes said. "And on my way to the airport, I got a call from my agent (who told me I had been claimed by the Washington Redskins). I said that if I could, because my oldest son had just been born, can I have a couple days to go home and then fly back to Washington to try out?
"(My head was spinning a little bit because) even from the time that they came to me and told me that I would be placed on waivers, I never had the time because it was going from preseason to the airport, back to Pullman, and then two or three days later, to Washington."
Green Bay would pick up the safety after he was cut from Washington's practice squad and place him on their own. Activated by the Packers for their last couple regular-season and all three of their playoff games, Hayes helped them win Super Bowl XXXI over New England.
"That was a crash course that actually set me on my path to last as long as I did," Hayes said. "The people I was around, from players to coaches, it was a great learning curve and a great experience. I'm just blessed and lucky that the journey that I was on took me through the path that I took to get to where I was going."
Prior to the 1997 season, Hayes found himself back in New York by way of a June trade with Green Bay for cornerback Carl Greenwood. When he was with the Jets in 1996, the head coach was Rich Kotite. Now they were being coached by two-time Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells.
"I'll never forget the first meeting that I had with Bill Parcells. He said, 'I brought you and a couple other guys to build my special teams unit around and that's what I want you guys to focus on," said Hayes, who would lead the special teams in tackles that season. "I don't want you picking up a defensive book right now. I want to build this special teams.'
"And he used to always tell me, 'You find a niche and you perfect it. That's how you last long in this business.' I did everything he told me to do, along with the great special teams coaches and the great special teams players that was around."
Over the next five seasons with the Jets, Hayes found the niche that Parcells talked about and became a standout on special teams.
"I was around a lot of players there, but the Monday Night Miracle when we came back and beat Miami (in 2000 by scoring 30 points in the fourth quarter and winning in overtime, 40-37), that was one of my fondest memories, how the team all came together," Hayes said.
"I had a lot of fun and I love the Jets. I'm still a diehard Jet. My favorite team of all time. My son, Isaiah, is at the University of Louisville playing (defensive back). He played with (the Jets' first-round draft pick this year, Mekhi) Becton, so I got to watch him play last year. I'm excited that he's a New York Jet. That was a great pick-up. Everything is coming together for us, I think."
Making his home in Calabasas, California, Hayes and his wife, Aran, have two sons besides Isaiah. Chris Jr., who played football for and graduated from Portland State; and Jeremiah, 15, who will be a high school sophomore in the fall. They also have a daughter, Asia, 8, who is in elementary school.
An author, mentor, and public speaker, Hayes has a foundation called It's 90 Percent Mental. It has three divisions: sports marketing, speaking engagements and community outreach.
"I'm always giving back where I'm needed," Hayes said. "We're always trying to tap into athletes and show them that their platform can be used for many powerful things. Number one, to motivate and inspire people in life skills. And to help individuals that could be going through similar things that they're going through. So, we're involved with a lot of community outreach type of platforms.
"And I wrote a book called Suits On… Game On… Know your Position! It is all about transitioning and understanding your uniqueness and the gifts that you have. I feel like athletes come to the table with a lot of things to survive in whatever it is that they partake in."