There have been a lot of stories told about Charles Haley's exploits off the field since he retired. Not off the field as in him getting in trouble with the law, but more like him getting in trouble in the locker room with teammates and in the offices with coaches. Many of those stories are very interesting and sometimes even amusing, but it's almost as if the stories of him acting boorish behind closed doors have taken on a life of their own at this point.
It has gotten so bad that those stories almost overshadow just how much of a badass Haley really was on the field during his career. It doesn't help that Haley was one of those cats who you actually had to see play in order to fully appreciate how much of a BEAST he was. Yeah, he had just over 100 sacks in his 13-year career so it's not like he doesn't have stats to back him up, too, but those stats don't come close to doing justice to the things I actually watched him do on the field.
You see, one of the first things you have to understand about Haley is that he was basically a beanpole when he came out of college compared to today's edge rushers. Dude was 6'5 and about 230 pounds or so. Hell, we will probably see safeties his size in the NFL pretty soon.
Then he had these long ass arms that were perfect for keeping offensive lineman off his body. What was so wild about watching Haley play, especially early on, was how easily he was able to knock offensive linemen, who many times outweighed him by almost 100 pounds, back into the backfield on contact. That wasn't specific to him playing the run or pass, the dude could seemingly jack up anybody at any time, no matter the size differential, if he wanted to.
At the same time this "skinny" and uncommonly powerful dude was also quite the athlete and could very easily beat those same offensive linemen around the corner to get to the quarterback. Haley started off his career in San Francisco as a designated pass rusher and eventually became a starter there as a rush outside linebacker. Even though he played defensive end in college in a three-point stance, Haley quickly learned how to get off the ball explosively from a stand-up position. That put tremendous pressure on the offensive tackles he faced to try to kick back fast enough to catch up with his speed. The problem was that on the off-chance they were actually quick enough to meet Haley at the corner, he was liable to put his helmet right up under their chin strap and run the hell over them. That made him damn near impossible to block, hence the 12.5 sacks he notched as a rookie in 1986 and the 11.5 sacks he collected two years later in 1988, his first year as a full-time starter.
Haley would go on to produce double-digit sacks in four out of his first five seasons in the NFL while also leading the 49ers in sacks in each of his first six seasons. Did I mention that he and the 49ers also won two Super Bowls over that time period? Because he and they damn sure did. Haley was recognized as the Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 by UPI which ain't too shabby, either.
But again, numbers don't really even come close to telling the full story on Haley those first six seasons in San Francisco because they can't tell you about how many times his pressure forced a quarterback into a turnover. They won't tell you about all the blockers he was able to make look silly out in space to before taking down their running back hard for a loss. They won't show you how teams tried to double team Haley, which gave other 49er pass rushers better opportunities to make plays. And that's just the first half of his career we are talking about here.
After some incidents detailed in those infamous stories I referenced up above, the 49ers decided to trade Haley in the offseason in 1992. To this day I have no idea why they would send him to Dallas of all places, but as a long time Cowboys fan I will always be grateful for their stupidity. Haley's sack numbers fell off his first couple of years in Dallas, but again his impact was still evident if you watched the games. I don't know how many times a Dallas defensive back would pick off a pass and when they showed the replay there would be Haley in the quarterback's face forcing him to hurry the throw. He was also huge part of the reason for that Cowboys transformation from a middle of the pack unit in 1991 to a top-10 outfit for the next four years.
Haley went from a skinny situational pass rusher as a rookie with the 49ers to a guy who was strong enough to play inside occasionally on passing downs six years later with the Cowboys. The development made it even harder for teams to gameplan for him. So many times, no matter where he lined up, Haley would masterfully set up his teammates on a pass rush. He would end up taking out at least two blockers while allowing the other guy to come scot-free and get the sack and all the glory that came with it.
Here was a dude who already had won two rings and who had already been voted DPOY in the NFL and yet he was still willing to be unselfish and run those pass rush games the way they were supposed to be run even when it wasn't his turn to come free. Those are the plays that you are just never going to "get" from looking at a stat sheet. And those are also the kind of plays you will have a hard time finding on film of current players these days.
You just had to be there.
Seriously, you can't find that shit on YouTube. You really had to be there or watch on TV back then or something because otherwise you are assed out!
Along the way Haley once again got back to being a double-digit sack guy twice more before his time was over in Dallas. Interestingly enough, that resurgence came after the coaching change that us Cowboys fans hate to speak about. He was even voted as the DPOY yet again in 1995, the same year he won his fifth and final Super Bowl, which still stands as the record for a single player. Later Haley came out of two years of retirement to go back home and play in the playoffs with the 49ers. He played one more season there and even on what was decidedly the downside of his career Haley managed to collect three sacks that final season to get him over 100 for his career. That's one hell of a happily ever after ending, man!
I am pretty sure the fact that most of these young whippersnappers never actually saw Haley play is the primary reason why nobody ever grabbed the torches and pitchforks during all those years when he made it as a finalist to the Hall of Fame, but never actually got in. Anybody who did actually watch the man take offensive linemen to the woodshed Sunday after Sunday, as I did, had to be frustrated and outraged that it took this long for him to get in. If the criteria is strictly what he did on the field then forget all those stories about the confrontations he got in, he was supposed to be a lock!
When it came to kicking ass on a football field there were few better at it than number 94 and that's why I am so glad the Hall finally cut the shit and allowed him in this year. Charles Haley was one of the best to ever do it, of that there is no longer any doubt. I just hope one day more old school NFL film gets uploaded to the interwebs so everyone else can see how great he was, too. Until then you youngsters try to tune out the off the field stuff and instead pay close attention to Haley's video tribute during the Hall of Fame ceremonies because that will probably be the closest you get to seeing just how special he was as a player back in the day.
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