Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 22 Charles Haley, originally published on Jan. 28.
Charles Haley belongs to an exclusive club in which he is President, CEO, Sergeant-at-Arms and the sole member: players with five Super Bowl rings.
The Hall of Fame defensive end and linebacker from James Madison University won two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and three with the Dallas Cowboys, serving as a cornerstone of superb defensive units for both franchises.
Haley finished his career with 100.5 sacks and owns a Super Bowl record 4.5 sacks. He was inducted into Canton last August after an 11-year wait that likely was due to his mercurial behavior and at-times strained relationships with coaches, teammates and the media.
Indeed, several years after his retirement, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has discussed his personal challenges in numerous settings, including his Hall of Fame induction speech last August.
“The only way you can grow is, you’ve gotta ask for help,” Haley said during the speech. “I walked into the league a 22-year-old man, with a 16-year-old inside me asking for help. I wouldn’t ask for help. … I finally listened.”
With treatment and proper medication, Haley is more comfortable and grateful.
“It’s a blessing to be able to change and see things for the first time,” he said in a Dallas Morning News story in 2010. “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever had, more pleasurable than winning a Super Bowl. Because I don’t have to walk around being angry all the time.”
Haley made an immediate impact after the 49ers drafted him in the fourth round out of JMU in 1986. He recorded 12.5 sacks as a rookie, essentially playing part-time as a pass-rush specialist.
In his first Super Bowl, against the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989, he sacked Boomer Esiason twice and led a defense that held the league’s highest scoring offense without an offensive touchdown. That game is best known for the Niners’ 92-yard drive in the final minutes, with Joe Montana hitting John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown.
The following year, in Super Bowl XXIV, the Niners crushed the Denver Broncos, 55-10. They scored on six of their first eight possessions, and held the Broncos to 167 total yards.
San Francisco traded Haley to Dallas after the 1991 season, following altercations with coaches and teammates. He immediately elevated the Cowboys’ defense.
“We couldn’t spell Super Bowl until Charles Haley joined the Cowboys,” team owner Jerry Jones said in an NFL Network program on Haley’s football life.
From 1992-95, Dallas held opponents to the fewest points, yards and yards per play, and the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years — XXVII, XXVIII and XXX.
In the Cowboys’ 52-17 win against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, Haley strip-sacked Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. Teammate Jimmie Jones picked the ball out of the air and dove into the end zone, the Cowboys’ second touchdown in 15 seconds.
One year later, the Cowboys again defeated the Bills 30-13, scoring 24 unanswered points and dominating the second half. Haley had a half-sack in the third quarter on third down, forcing a punt. Dallas responded with a touchdown drive to take the lead for good.
Super Bowl XXX was the final championship for the Cowboys and Haley. They defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17, turning two Larry Brown interceptions into short-field touchdown drives in a game in which they were outgained by the Steelers.
Haley retired in 1996, but came back in ’98 to help the 49ers in the playoffs and then played the 1999 season before retiring for good.
“I am truly blessed,” Haley said in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech last August. “I played with some of the greatest players ever in the history of football, and I’ve learned a lot. And the one thing I learned from all those guys is unselfish play. Team matters.”