SUWANEE, Ga. - In the early days, Michael Haynes did it with a nod of his head or twitch of his shoulders and then sheer speed.
"Flash" was his nickname - after the comic book hero - and the only way to catch him was with a fast camera lens.
That was then. Haynes is 31 now and set to begin his 10th year in the NFL and his second tenure with the Atlanta Falcons after a three-year run with New Orleans.
He is said to be a stride slower than he was in 1988, when he ran against Carl Lewis in the Olympic Trials. Even if that's true, Haynes may be a better receiver now because he matches decent speed with veteran savvy.
Haynes revealed that combination last Saturday night, beating Tampa Bay's standout cornerback Donnie Abraham on a 43-yard bomb from Chris Chandler and then catching a 13-yard pass in traffic on a third-and-11 play.
"After being in the league so long, you learn a lot of things," Haynes said after breaking his annual training camp silence with the media. "I've kind of stored a lot of those things with me. And come game time, I bring as many of them as I can."
A seventh-round pick out of Northern Arizona in 1988, Haynes became one of the most popular Falcons. In six seasons he caught 254 passes for 4,066 yards and 33 touchdowns, the latter being the third highest total in franchise history.
What he did best was run away from defenders. Haynes led the NFL in yards per catch (22.4) in 1991, from 1991-93, he averaged a staggering 36.7 yards per touchdown catch.
The pinnacle was an an 11-touchdown regular season in 1991, after which Haynes beat his hometown Saints in the first round of the playoffs when he caught a hitch pass from Chris Miller and raced 61 yards for the winning touchdown. The postseason victory stands as one of only two in franchise history.
Haynes became a free agent in 1994, and the Falcons decided he wasn't worth what the Saints were willing to pay - more than $2 million a year.
"I really didn't want to leave, but I was in a good position whether or not the Falcons matched the offer," Haynes said. "If they did, I would have stayed and played where I wanted to play. If they didn't I was going back to the city where I grew up."
Haynes caught a career-high 77 passes in his first season in New Orleans, where he had once played the trumpet in the Joseph Clark High School band. But his production plummeted along with his team's fortunes. In 1995 and '96, he caught only 85 passes combined.
Although many observers blamed former Saints offensive coordinator Carl Smith for not taking advantage of the receiver's talents, new Saints coach Mike Ditka decided Haynes wasn't worth his salary and waived him.
Several teams immediately expressed interest, including the one Haynes wanted to hear from most.
Having maintained one suburban home here that he and his new bride, Cookie, live in, and another that he bought for his mother, who passed away last spring, Haynes wanted nothing more than to return to Atlanta.
"I came in and had a sit-down with Dan (Reeves), and he gave me a real comfortable feeling," Haynes said. "He seemed like a coach wouldn't pull any punches, and after talking to him, I decided to cancel all my other visits."
Haynes signed a two-year contract worth $1.8 million. He'll team with Terance Mathis and Bert Emnauel to give the Falcons a receiving corps that, while not big or strong, may be a team strength.
Blazing speed or not, Haynes will be the main deep threat.
"He's just a super smart receiver," Reeves said. "He's a veteran and he's been a great receiver. He lulls people to sleep and doesn't let them know the ball's coming - all kind of little things you can't teach."
Haynes demonstrated as much early in training camp, when he ran a streak against Juran Bolden, slowed just enough to let Bolden make contact, then pushed off the second-year cornerback and broke free to make the catch.
"Nowadays people are running just as fast as you are," Haynes aid. "And things are moving a lot faster. You have to have some extra things to beat some of the defensive backs."
A little "flash" and a lot of savvy may do well for Haynes this time around.
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