Charles Haley is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of the NFL.
The stories are out there. The almost too-incredible-to-be-true locker room tales that would make the most hardened athlete sink back in fear. There are the stats and the record and the long and winding road to the NFL Hall of Fame. But now, after years of waiting, the former 49ers and Cowboys defensive standout will finally be enshrined at Canton, joining the Class of 2015 at this year’s ceremony.
Here’s what you need to know about the polarizing player:
1. Haley Was a Two-Time All-American at James Madison University
Haley broke into the national football scene in 1982 when he joined the James Madison football team as a freshman starter. He was a starter for all four seasons with the Dukes and was named a two-time All-American during his career before graduating as the school’s leading tackler with 506 total hits.
As a senior, Haley was named the Richmond Touchdown Club’s Defensive Player of the Year and was a three-time JMU Defensive MVP as well as the JMU Male Athlete of the Year during the 1985-86 season.
2. He Won Five Super Bowl Championships With Two Teams
Haley’s impact on football, and the defensive approach of the game, is unquestionable and is still felt to this day. He remains the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls and had never been part of a team with less than 10 wins for 11 straight seasons.
Haley appeared in six NFC Championship Games over the span of seven seasons and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year twice, finishing his career with 100.5 sacks. There was a visible tilt in NFL power when Haley was traded from the 49ers to the Cowboys and Dallas won three Super Bowls in four years after he joined the team.
Former coach Jimmy Jonson questioned what took so long for Haley to find his way to Canton, saying:
I’ve said many, many times that Charles Haley should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. No offense to any of the players in there, but I coached and coached against a lot of the players that are in the Hall of Fame, and Charles Haley is better than them.”
3. Haley Was Traded to the Dallas Cowboys After a Physical Confrontation With 49ers QB Steve Young
Although his stats were nothing short of incredible, Haley’s off-the-field antics left a dark cloud over his name that has lingered for years after he announced his retirement.
As the story goes, Haley was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1992 offseason after having a personal conflict with San Francisco head coach Goerge Seifert as well as a physical confrontation with quarterback Steve Young.
Despite the less-than-poetic departure, Haley actually returned to San Francisco, following a brief retirement, during the 1998 playoffs and played for the 49ers in 1999.
4. He Was an NFL Hall of Fame Finalist Five Times
Haley has always been Hall of Fame worthy. It’s simply been a bit of a waiting game to get here. He was one of 15 finalists for election to the Hall five times, including in 2014, before he finally earned the honor earlier this year.
Now that he’s finally heading to Canton, Haley has announced that he will have Eddie DeBartolo introduce him prior to his induction. Haley previously said he was trying to decide between DeBartolo and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, split down the middle, much like his career, but the Hall would not allow him to have two introductions.
Of course, this is not Haley’s first honor. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 as well as the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2011.
5. After Retiring From Football Haley Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder
There was always a bit of an asterik whenever anyone described Haley’s game. Sure, he was dominant. His defensive statistics were prolific and impressive and one look from him was enough to send opposing quarterbacks into the huddle with their metaphorical tails between their legs.
But while that reputation was certainly an advantage on the gridiron, away from the game it was anything but, a distraction and a detractor from the person that Haley wanted to be. So, he got help. Haley was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002 and immediately underwent treatment, both through therapy and medically.
Karen Haley, his ex-wife after 19 years of marriage, described the transformation she saw in the former football standout, telling the Dallas News:
I know that if you mention the name Charles Haley, a lot of people immediately are going to say something negative. It will be based on something they’ve heard, read, or it could be based off of a personal experience. I’m very proud to witness his transformation. I don’t use that word often, but I really feel it has been a transformation.
Karen and Charles also have four children together. Their oldest, Princess Haley, played soccer at Florida Southern, while C.J. was a defensive back at UT-El Paso. Brianna, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1997, is still in remission and their youngest, Madison, is a standout soccer player as well as a perfect bone marrow match for her sister.
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