Building Charles Haley's Case for the Hall of Fame
Charles Haley. Man, what can I say about this guy?
When you think of success, in terms of football, one of the first images that should pop into anyone’s mind is Charles Haley. No player had more success than he did.
To be on five Super Bowl teams and have five Super Bowl rings is an accomplishment that no one has been able to match, and I doubt if anyone else will.
Therefore, it is almost impossible for a man to be on five different teams and win the Super Bowl. He’d have to be an average player, for one, because teams try to lock up their stars for several years.
He’d also have to be extremely lucky.
Charles Haley was more than that. Charles Haley was a difference-maker. Charles Haley was a man that scared opponents. He made every defensive line he played on a better line. He made every linebacking corps he played with a better crew, and he was probably the most angry and violent man to ever play professional football.
This defensive end/outside linebacker belongs in the Hall of Fame.
To truly understand why this man is a must for the Hall of Fame, you have to look at the player. You can’t just look at numbers. You have to get inside Charles Haley’s head and understand what kind of player he was.
Was he driven? Was he a leader? Was he a locker room cancer? Was he someone who made clutch plays? Was he a constant threat to other teams? Did his teammates respect him?
All of those things come into perspective now. We are talking about the Hall of Fame here. Charles Haley is on a list with 14 guys, and only a maximum of five of those men are going into Canton this year. With two slots most likely being taken by Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, which means Charles Haley will have to beat out a minimum of 10 players for a bust in Canton.
For voters to choose Charles Haley, they will need to judge every aspect of Charles Haley, not just the statistics he has on football Web sites.
Charles Haley was born in Gladys, Va. on Jan. 6, 1964. He went to James Madison University and is the best player to ever come from there.
Since James Madison is not relatively known for its NFL talent and doesn't have what one would call a "high competition level," Haley’s success there was overlooked.
Bill Walsh, arguably the greatest talent judge of all time, saw something in Charles Haley.
Walsh realized that the 1986 draft was really weak in terms of talent. “One of our chief scouts after the draft said to other people, 'That’s the worst draft I’ve ever seen.'”
Walsh realized that he could make trades and accumulate multiple draft picks in order to really build depth to the San Francisco 49ers. He turned eight draft picks into 14 through a variety of trades.
Out of those 14 picks, he drafted eight starters for at least one Super Bowl, most started two, in the '88-'89 Super Bowls.
Walsh and his assistants saw Charles Haley in the fourth round, and Walsh knew that Haley was something to get.
Haley had very long arms that could extend and get to the passer. He was 6'5", around 250 lbs., and very fast; an ideal defensive end.
Combine physical talent with Haley’s almost Viking-like warrior persona and an intense dedication that was rivaled by few, and you get a great football player.
Haley was frequently used as a pass rusher his rookie year, and he compiled 12 sacks despite the fact that he was playing linebacker instead of his college position of defensive end.
He only played in 12 games his second year, and the Niners were upset by the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.
However, in Haley’s first year as a starter at left outside linebacker, he was elected to the Pro Bowl with 11.5 sacks, and the Niners won their third Super Bowl title.
Remember that the left outside linebacker is, in the quarterback's point of view, on the right. So, Haley managed to record 11.5 sacks with the quarterback able to see him coming most of the time since the majority of quarterbacks are right handed.
I’d like to know how many sacks he would have gotten if he had rushed on the quarterback’s blind side.
Not only was Haley crowned a champion, he also was recognized as a great player.
“Charles is one of the greatest players of our era,” said 49ers Vice President/General manager/Head Coach Bill Walsh. “At one point he was considered the best pass rusher in all of football. He’s been a credit to the game and very well could be a Hall of Fame candidate.”
Bill Walsh understood Charles Haley and how to deal with a man like him. Haley was crazy. The guy was nuttier than a cuckoo clock.
He was a manic-depressive. He could be happy, sweet, and helpful with some players one moment and as mean as a mother-in-law the next.
One of the most common similes used today to describe someone when they’re mad is to compare them to a volcano. I think that simile is used as a hyperbole too often.
Yet, that simile is what one can use to perfectly describe Charles Haley. He had so much anger in him that when he was angry, it did come out like ash and lava out of a volcano.
He even wrote an autobiography entitled, All The Rage , which was a first-person perspective of the thoughts and words of Charles Haley himself.
It really is a book that I would recommend, because it can help one understand how an NFL player would think and how to handle people with severe psychological problems.
He also was a guy who would ride you. You could not have sensitive feelings around Haley. He was always testing you. He made fun of Joe Montana’s nose, he went after Troy Aikman’s crooked smile, he messed with Deion Sanders’ uniforms, and he even went after Jimmy Johnson’s hair.
Haley accepted teasing, as well. People would talk about his head, mostly about how it was pointy and shaped like a bullet.
Some could take it, some couldn’t. Matt Millen, a highly talented linebacker for the Raiders, joined the 49ers in 1989, and he said, “ Now I get to the 49ers. Within a week, I want to kill him.”
No one was safe from Charles Haley. The players needed to have thick skin or he’d eat them alive.
One of Haley’s closest friends and largest supporters is Hall of Fame cornerback/safety Ronnie Lott. Lott was the guy that could keep Haley from going over the edge whenever Haley started pushing it too far.
After the 1988 season, Bill Walsh retired from the 49ers. Defensive coordinator George Seifert was chosen to replace Walsh, and Haley was not happy with the transition.
Seifert did not know how to talk to Charles Haley. Seifert was not a good choice for a mediator and, as a coach, you have to be able to talk to your players, especially guys like Charles Haley.
An excerpt of Haley’s book tells what George Seifert was like as a communicator.
“When I was in San Francisco, Seifert’s way of dealing with black players was to bring in Harry Edwards. Dr. Edwards is a professor of sociology at Cal-Berkeley. He used to be a radical, but now I think he’s all about the money. Give him a check and he’ll help your team solve its racial problems. It was kind of pathetic, really. He’d come around, acting like he belonged, telling stories about how he used to be with the Black Panthers and s***. Most guys would just try to ignore him. We all knew why he was there: to be the mediator between the coaching staff and the black players. It was like Seifert said, 'I’ll handle the white guys, you talk to the black guys.' What kind of bull**** is that?”
Bill Walsh was not that kind of coach. He talked to all of his players, and Haley respected him for it, but Seifert did not make that effort.
Since the 49ers were such a dominant team to begin with, the '89 season was really a breeze for them. They were 14-2 and blew out the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, 55-10.
One memorable play in that game was when John Elway threw an interception to Michael Walter. That would not have happened had Charles Haley not been in his eyesight. Elway could not see Walter because Haley’s pass rush prevented him from seeing that Walter was in a position to intercept the ball.
Charles Haley was the owner of two Super Bowl rings with that victory. Things did not go well after that, though.
After losing the 1990 NFC Championship game to the New York Giants, the 49ers did not resign Ronnie Lott, and Lott went to the Los Angeles Raiders instead.
Matt Millen said, “It was like the ship was rudderless, and that drove Charles crazy. And so, when Ronnie left, they lost Charles Haley at the same time."
Charles Haley said in an NFL Films interview, “Just seeing the anger and hurt in his (Ronnie Lott’s) eyes man, and that hurt went over into me and uh, because I’m a loyal friend, I could not deal with it, I could not deal with it. It just festered into everything. I just started hating being here, hated wearing the uniform.”
Forget money, strength, physical attractiveness, and all that other stuff; my main criteria for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with great play, is great character, and there is no greater measure of character than loyalty to one’s friends.
The bond that Haley shared with Lott is one that I can describe best with another use of Haley’s book.
It was 1991. The Raiders had Ronnie Lott on their team. The 49ers were in Los Angeles and the Raiders were a decent team that finished 9-7, but the Niners should have beaten them.
The Niners didn’t even score a touchdown. They lost 12-6 in what I would definitely call an embarrassing fashion, with Steve Young throwing two interceptions.
Losses like this happen though, right? This was more than just a loss; this was the final blow to the already unstable and frustrated Charles Haley.
"My frustration reached a peak in the fifth week of the ‘91 season, when we lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, Ronnie Lott’s new team. After the game I had a slight nervous breakdown–or whatever you want to call it. Basically I lost control and gave the 49ers reason to believe that I really was crazy. It just seemed like I was the only guy out there playing hard, and I went up to George and told him, 'You know, you’ve got to start coming down on these guys.' Everybody had big contracts, everybody was fat, with full pockets. They weren’t playing hard anymore. They weren’t hungry. But when you try to point out something like that, when you try to express your opinion, coaches always think you’re a dumb-*** football player and you can’t tell me anything.
"I tried, though. Man, did I try. When the game ended those motherf****** came in, and I really gave it to them. I started cussing out the whole team. George got sick of listening to me, I guess, so he grabbed my arm, and when he did that I just lost it. I took a swing right at his smug little head. Fortunately, I missed. But I did hit the wall, and it hurt so much–left a big knuckle print–that I got even more pissed off. I started bouncing around, cursing, yelling, throwing s***. Then I put my hand through a window and cut it to pieces. They had to stitch me up in the locker room.
"I don’t know what I was thinking. My temper had gotten me in trouble before, but this was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was in a complete f***** rage. Some of the other players tried to hold me down after a while, but I wouldn’t let them. Finally, they tracked down Ronnie in the other locker room and he came running in. I remember he was half-naked–shorts, no shirt, no shoes. He sat down next to me, held my hand, and kept telling me everything would be all right. I just sat there shaking, crying. It was so emotional. I can’t really explain what happened, except to say that I felt like they were trying to destroy me…and they almost succeeded."
That is as close to brotherhood as you can get. To find a man like Charles Haley, who was one of the toughest men to ever step on a football field and was willing to let another man hold his hand as he was crying, is the ultimate symbol of trust.
That was the beginning of the end for Charles Haley. After the '91 season, the 49ers made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys, exchanging Charles Haley for a pair of second and third round draft picks.
You can quote me on this. It was the trade that finished the championship roster for the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1991, the Cowboys had allowed 310 points to finish 17th in the league in defense. After Haley showed up in 1992, the Cowboys were fifth in defense and allowed only 243 points for the season.
The only change to the defensive starting roster was Charles Haley. He brought a championship attitude. A guy who had two rings in the Niners dynasty and was still as hungry as fox in a chicken house. His strength and leadership made the defense dominant enough for the Cowboys to win Super Bowl XXVII.
One play that really changed the momentum of the Cowboys in that game was when Jimmie Jones caught a fumble in mid-air on the two-yard line and dove into the end zone as fast as he could.
The only reason that play happened was because Charles Haley got his hand on Jim Kelly and forced the fumble.
After that play, Dallas got the lead and never gave it back. It was one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history, with a score of 52-17.
A year later, they won it all again. The Cowboys beat the Bills by a score of 30-13.
Charles Haley became one of the few players in NFL history to have four Super Bowl rings. It is hard to get one ring, but four?
Who would have thought that he’d be getting one for the thumb in two years when the Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-20, in Super Bowl XXX?
That would be the end of the championships, but not challenges, for Charles Haley. He would later face a challenge that you cannot defeat by working out or sacking the quarterback or winning a Super Bowl. He would have to face the challenge of a father.
Haley's daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Nothing hurts more to a man than to see his little girl in pain and know he cannot do anything to stop it. That, and an injured back, led Charles Haley to retire from football in 1996.
He was there for her, and her fight to overcome it made him realize that he could come back to football. At the age of 35, he came out of retirement in 1999. He would rejoin his former team, the 49ers, which now had Bill Walsh back in charge as the vice president and general manager. Haley was welcomed with open arms.
It is strange when you think about it. He’s got injuries and has five Super Bowl rings. He definitely had done enough to be considered for the Hall of Fame. So why come back?
It is the same reason as a lot of people. He came back and played for the love of the game.
Another oddity about Haley is that he doesn’t wear his rings. He said,
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