MANKATO, Minn. — Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt electrified the world last week when he became the first Olympian to win both the 100- and 200-meter dashes in consecutive Olympics.
Now some are wondering whether Bolt could electrify NFL fans. At least one NFL special teams coach isn’t going to doubt the fastest man in the world.
Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer was asked this week about Bolt playing in the NFL, possibly as a return specialist. Priefer noted the failed crossover attempts in the past, but he wouldn’t put anything beyond the electric Bolt.
“I’m not going to say he can’t because he’s big, he’s strong and he can run,” Priefer said when asked if Bolt, 25, could make it as a kickoff returner in the NFL. “But those of you who remember Renaldo Nehemiah, I think we’ve already had this experiment and it didn’t work out so well then. But I don’t want to say that he can’t do it because he’s a heck of a lot faster than anybody else in the world.”
Nehemiah was a world-record holder in the 110-meter hurdles before leaving track and field and signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 1982. He was a wide receiver for San Francisco, but his NFL career lasted just three seasons in which he had 43 total catches. He later returned to track and field.
But Nehemiah was a hurdler, not a world-class sprinter.
Bob Hayes earned two gold medals at the 1964 Olympics, winning the individual 100 just like Bolt and then adding another win in the 400 relay. Hayes, who had played football at Florida A&M, was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1964.
Hayes went on to be a three-time Pro Bowl selection, twice as a receiver and once as a punt returner. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 after a career in which he had 371 catches for 7,414 yards and 71 receiving touchdowns. He averaged 11.1 yards on his 104 career punt returns and added three more touchdowns.
Jim Thorpe is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a career in which he played several sports professionally. He won two Olympic gold medals. Wide receivers James Jett, Ron Brown and Willie Gault, too, had dual NFL and Olympic careers.
Bolt doesn’t have the football pedigree of Hayes or Thorpe, but his speed makes the crossover potential very interesting.
And if he wanted to try, Bolt wouldn’t be the only Olympian attempting to make the move.
Former University of Florida running back Jeff Demps has applied to join the NFL and is being considered by several teams after competing in the Olympics this month. Demps won a silver medal as part of the U.S. 400-meter relay team that finished second to Jamaica.
Demps had said he was giving up football to concentrate on track and field and went undrafted this year. Now that the Olympics are over, Demps is hoping to get a chance with an NFL team. While at Florida, he had 2,470 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He was also an accomplished returner, averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return.