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Jittery Mark Haynes calmed nerves with memorable pick-six at Army

Former Buffs standout DB awed by rare trip to West Point

Mark Haynes wasn’t a rookie anymore, and he would go on to play in much bigger games throughout a lengthy pro football career. Still, making a trip to play Army, regardless of the situation, often is enough to overwhelm any player.

Former CU defensive back Mark Haynes was the eighth overall pick in the 1980 draft.

It was 43 years ago on Thursday when the Buffaloes visited Army, marking the last time CU has played a road game against any of the service academies. It proved to be a relatively stress-free day for the Buffs, who posted a 31-0 victory sparked in part by a huge defensive play from Haynes. Yet the defensive back who would go on to play 127 games over 10 seasons in the NFL probably didn’t think big things were in store that day at West Point, as Haynes was struck by a rare case of pregame jitters.

“I remember before the game I was really nervous. I remember my hands were actually shaking,” Haynes said. “Normally I never got that nervous before a game, but for some strange reason I was nervous before that game.

“I really think it was just the atmosphere. Everyone had on basically the same color. I’m just guessing that’s what it was. But once the game started, it was just like a regular game.”

It was late in the third quarter when Haynes, a sophomore strong safety, jumped an Army a pass into the flat. One key block from defensive end Stuart Walker and 97 yards later, Haynes turned a 17-point CU lead on the cusp of being trimmed into a commanding 24-0 advantage.

“That particular play, the running back was running a flat route and I was playing strong safety at that time. I believe we were in man to man coverage,” Haynes said. “I had to take the back on that particular play and I jumped the route. The quarterback was my only obstacle to the end zone, but I did have some blocking. Stuart Walker ran a little bit of interference on the quarterback and I was able to maneuver the other way and I went on in for the six.”

Before Haynes’ senior season of 1979, CU switched coaches from Bill Mallory to Chuck Fairbanks, and Fairbanks soon moved Haynes from strong safety to cornerback. It became a huge moment in Haynes’ life, as he was drafted in the first round (eighth overall) by the New York Giants in the 1980 draft. Haynes was a two-time first team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection who played on four playoff teams with the Giants and Denver Broncos, finishing his career with 17 interceptions.

“We had a coaching change at the end of my junior year, and then my career changed when (Fairbanks) moved me from strong safety to corner,” Haynes said. “That was huge for me going forward.”

After his playing days, Haynes embarked on a two decade-plus career working for the state of Colorado’s social security and disability offices. But he retired early this year and still lives in Denver, which has been his full-time home since he joined the Broncos in 1986.

“It’s been great,” Haynes said of retirement. “My wife originally is from Denver and we met in college, so this is home. There’s just a lot of yard work I’m doing, but I’m very much enjoying it.”

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