In announcing he was leaving Australia’s National Rugby League in October 2014, Jarryd Hayne said, “It’s always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL.”
Less than a year later, and against great odds, Hayne lived the dream.
Hayne also showed undeniable athletic ability and mental toughness to win a roster spot upon the 49ers’ initial cut to 53 players in September.
After hitting a plateau – not to mention committing three fumbles in six games on punt returns -- the 49ers waived him. When Hayne was not claimed by any other NFL team, he was re-signed to the 49ers’ practice squad. He remained there until a late-season call-up.
Hayne was going to face another difficult struggle to win a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster this season, competing for a backup job behind Carlos Hyde against Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis and recent draft pick Kelvin Taylor.
He ended his pursuit to play a second NFL season Sunday morning when he announced he could not pass up the chance to play in the Olympics for the Fiji rugby sevens team.
“(I)t is an opportunity I feel very similar to me joining the NFL,” Hayne said in a statement.
Since the end of last season, there were reports and speculation from Australia that Hayne could leave the NFL to return to some form of rugby. As recently as a month ago, Hayne blasted the Australian media for those portrayals.
“It’s upsetting when you see fans react according to what they read or what news was on that evening,” Hayne said. “That was disappointing. But I think they’re starting to get used to the stories that are coming out that aren’t true.”
In announcing the not-exactly-shocking decision to leave the NFL, Hayne and the 49ers used the word “retired” – seemingly indicating Hayne is ruling out a return to the NFL at any point in the future.
Now that it’s over, we can all recognize the Hayne-NFL experience was amazing to watch.
During offseason workouts a year ago, it was reasonable to think he might not make it through an exhibition game in one piece with his upright running style that appeared would leave him susceptible to big hits and possible injuries.
Hayne was competing against players who had a life’s worth of football knowledge. Of course, it showed at times and was one of the main reasons he did not assume a regular role on game days. But his physical skills were undeniable.
His most impressive trait was an ability to make the first would-be tackler whiff due to his uncommon lateral quickness. In the fast-paced, spread-out sport of seven-a-side rugby, Hayne could be nearly unstoppable.
He proved he could play in the NFL. On a team with very little star power, Hayne brought some intrigue to a 49ers team that otherwise generated little interest last season.
Hayne is back in an arena where he can be a superstar – and not just another athlete trying desperately to hang onto a short-lived dream.
Now, he is probably back where he belongs.