*As part of the Green Bay Packers' celebration of the 10th anniversary season of the Super Bowl XXXI Championship, Packers.com is running a series of stories about the people responsible for bringing the Vince Lombardi trophy back home to Titletown.
By most accounts, Chris Hayes didn't have a lot of time to get acclimated to Green Bay in 1996. After all, he spent nine weeks on the practice squad and played in only five games. And the Packers were his third stop of the season.
But don't try telling Hayes that his time in Green Bay wasn't well worth it.
It's hardly a legacy, but Hayes gained enough valuable experience in his brief stay to guide him to a productive six-year career in the NFL as well as his life after football.
And though his rookie season featured a few ups and downs, the season was hardly a loss.
"For me, it was basically a dream come true," Hayes gushed. "It was a good learning experience for me. It taught me so much and prepared me for the next seven years.
"Starting off with the Jets and not having the types of players Green Bay had, it was just a blessing because I got to learn a lot in that one year's time and I got to see a lot."
The 6-foot, 200-pound safety came a long way in a year's time. He was originally drafted by the Jets in the seventh round and cut in training camp before spending time on Washington's practice squad and also being let go from there.
Before he knew it, however, Hayes was on a team contending for the Super Bowl as a 24-year-old rookie, and needless to say, he was a little awestruck by his surroundings.
"If you really look at it, it was like a Hall of Fame team put together," Hayes explained. "You had the Reggie Whites, you had the Jimmy McMahons, you had the Don Beebes, you had the Sean Joneses. Basically being young and having the opportunity to play around those type of people right out of the gate, it was a dream come true.
"It was crazy. I remember seeing John Madden in the locker room. All that stuff I can remember. In fact, that was one of my first star-struck moments, to see John Madden in the locker room."
Still, Hayes didn't think it would come down to that when the Jets drafted him. He thought he had played well enough in training camp to stick around awhile, but obviously it didn't work out that way.
And then the business side of the NFL set in for Hayes.
"I didn't really know, again I was young," Hayes recalled. "I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know my next move, and I didn't know what was going on.
"My wife was still my girlfriend at the time. We just had our first son and she was in college so I was at a point in my life where it was like, OK, I still have the opportunity to go back to school, but I knew I could play ball. I just didn't understand because it was happening so fast."
However, things slowed down for Hayes under the tutelage of special teams coach Nolan Cromwell, which also paid off later in his career, too.
"He really gave me my shot," Hayes said. "He believed in me on special teams. I was actually able to maintain and stay in the NFL for all of those years because I was able to set my position (on special teams), which eventually took me to a starting position at safety. But I was able to learn it and really see the value it had through Nolan."
Hayes has since retired and lives in California with his wife Aran, and their three sons, Chris Jr., Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Though his football playing days have been over for three seasons, Hayes said his job with New Century Mortgage Corporation requires many of the same skills to be successful.
"You never stop really playing the game," Hayes explained. "It's just different football fields, different arenas that I'm playing. I do know something about winning and being the best and how to compete because that's just the thing that football teaches us throughout our life.
"You get to compete, and it's a very aggressive market, and it's all about teamwork. It's all about putting the right people together, being coachable. Being able to lead people, the whole nine yards. It's very correlated.
"On the football field, you're only as good as your last play, and in corporate America your last big deal. The thing about it is this...when you make a mistake in the NFL you're viewed by millions of people, as opposed to corporate America where your mistake may not even be known or you might only have to be scolded by one person, your boss."
After a workmanlike approach in the NFL, Hayes excelled on special teams and now he seems to have a pretty good handle on the mortgage banking industry, too. Despite that success, Hayes explained that the most significant thing to happen to him in the last 10 years was in a different field: his faith.
"I gave my life over to the Lord and I became a man of God," he said proudly. "It's just a growing process. When I was playing, I was young and just like every other young guy that comes into the business, you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the industry. It's just been such a blessing to be in the situation I'm in."
And 10 years later, Hayes still has that same fire in his belly for the team that resurrected his career, even if it was a short stop in his NFL road.
"I still support and root for the team (Packers) because that was the team that really gave me my start," Hayes said. "To be on a Super Bowl winning team, that will always be something that I cherish and be grateful for, to have that opportunity to play around that caliber of players and that caliber of coaching staff and to go out there and be a champion in life."
It just goes to show that the amount of time you spend with an NFL organization isn't nearly as important as what you do with it.