What we learned: Charles Haley at peace with past


CANTON, Ohio -- Charles Haley was many things during his 13-year NFL career.

A dominant pass rusher, a weekly game-plan wrecker and the daytime incarnation of a quarterback's worst nightmare. As the only human being to earn five Super Bowl rings as a player, Haley had a knack for shifting the NFC power structure as he pivoted from San Francisco, to Dallas and back to the Niners -- winning rings in both cities.

The five-time Pro Bowler was all these things as a player, but on Friday -- one day before his Hall of Fame induction -- Haley was something new: Reflective.

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Google and a keyboard reveal the well-documented chaos that Haley unleashed on every locker room he inhabited. His behind-the-scenes antics certainly contributed to his delay in reaching Canton, but Haley on Friday seemed at peace with his past and happy to be here.

Asked what made him a special player, he deadpanned: "I was born beautiful."

When Cowboys beat writer Charean Williams asked for clues about Haley's speech on Saturday, he wouldn't bite, saying: "What am I going to say in my speech? That I love you girl, and thank you so much for helping a brother get in."

Laughs all around, but there was more.

Haley went out of his way to gush over former teammates and coaches -- especially Bill Walsh -- while urging today's Hall of Famers to look out for young, troubled NFL players like Aldon Smith, who was released on Friday after his third DUI arrest.

Haley promised to reach out to Smith, and told us that his message for young athletes is simple: "You need to play better than me, you need to be a better man than me."

"The only thing I want the fans to know is that -- I love this game. I love it with all my heart," Haley said. "I had the best time in the world. I met some of the greatest people in the world. Because of this game, I didn't have to live in (his hometown of) Gladys, Virginia. ... It's been so rewarding for me and my family. The generations of kids not going to college is broken, and I'm happy to be a part of that."

He's still an unusual cat, but Haley on Friday seemed to be looking outward -- or maybe inward -- at all the people who helped get him to Canton.

Here's what else we learned from the Class of 2015:

1. The inductees saved their highest praise for Junior Seau, the former Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots linebacker who will be inducted posthumously on Saturday night. Former general manager Bill Polian called him the "toughest guy to prepare for," while Haley said Seau "could run faster than anybody I ever seen before." Seau was lauded for his unrivaled ability to diagnose plays, but former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis spoke for the group when he named Seau's greatest quality: "Even if you weren't his teammate, in the offseason, you were a friend."

2. Speaking of Bettis, nobody attracted more media attention than the former power back. You don't see runners like Bettis anymore -- his build was unique -- but when I asked him to compare his game to someone from today, he didn't think twice. "Marshawn Lynch would have to be the guy that you look at and (say) like, 'Woah!' Because he refuses to let one person tackle him and that was my philosophy: Somebody's going to pay. ... If I have to go down, I'm taking somebody down with me. And when you look at the landscape of pro football, Marshawn Lynch is one of those guys. Adrian Peterson, although we don't have the same body type, he's the same kind of guy. When he gets the ball, somebody's going to have to pay for him going down to the ground. And when he's running, he's saying, 'Is it going to be you? Is it going to be you? And a lot of times the answer is 'No!'"

3. Back to Haley for a minute. When NFL Media's Michael Silver asked if players feared the pass rusher -- and if he used that fear to his advantage -- Haley told him, "Man, you use everything. As a defensive player, you use everything you could."

Said Haley: "What I used to do, I dehumanized the people that played (against us). I only looked at that number and that weight. I never want to know anything about them, because, when you start reading that this guy's a 10-time Pro Bowler ... it makes you get a little bit anxious, a little nervous. I never did that. That's why, at this point in my career, I don't know a lot of guys names that I went against, because I took that out of my game."

(By the way, Silver covered Haley for years in San Francisco, and wrote about the Hall of Famer's legacy in a brilliant Friday evening post. Give it a read.)

4. Tim Brown threw cold water on the Raiders moving to Los Angeles, saying: "I know if that happens, it's not going to be what they want to do, it's going to be what they have to do. From that standpoint, I don't know how cool that is."

Said Brown: "They want to be in Oakland. That's where the team originated, that's where they want to be. At the same time, you know, L.A. is L.A. And it's going to be difficult, though, because L.A. fans, the beach is often tempting. I look back on the first play that I returned that kickoff -- first time I ever touched the ball -- returned that kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and I saw the stands and I was like, 'Man, there's nobody in the stands!' And that's when the stadium seated 110,000. And I found the attendance. Opening day, 1988: 38,000 people in the stands. That's opening day! That's the difficult thing about L.A. You have to be the best or one of the best in the league, otherwise you're not going to get a lot of people."

5. With two general managers being inducted into the Hall on Saturday, we asked former Bills, Panthers and Colts front-office guru Bill Polian to scout his peer, Ron Wolf. "He's a great judge of talent, for one. And you have to have that ability," Polian said of the former Packers GM. "He worked very hard at it, exceedingly level-headed. I wish many times that I could approach things the way he did. Very, very firm in his beliefs. Very good to work for -- and with -- by all accounts. You look at the people he's turned out, great group of people. Just an exceedingly talented guy who did everything in his own low-key way, but did it exceptionally well."

6. When I told Wolf that Polian called him "level-headed," the man who famously traded for Brett Favre looked at me sideways. "Ooohhhhh, there's some guys here," Wolf said, pointing to a collection of Packers writers.

"I've heard him in the press box," said one reporter. "I'm not so sure."

"See, some guys here from Green Bay wouldn't agree with that," Wolf said of his game-day demeanor. "I always had a hard time with those guys, those convicts running up and down the field blowing whistles."

After slamming the refs, Wolf returned to Polian, saying: "His record -- I mean, I would like to have that record that he had. I think he's very deserving to be in."

7. Wolf was also asked if he would dare ship a first-round pick for an unknown quarterback today -- like he did with Favre before the 1992 season. "That old adage, no guts no glory," said Wolf, before reminding us: "I made a lot of trades that were busts."

Wolf went on to say that Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, in particular, "always kicked my ass when we made trades," saying that Parcells' only major whiff came during his tenure with the Giants, when he failed to sign Hall of Fame pass rusher Reggie White after the USFL folded. "He wanted to take Reggie White, and Reggie White was there -- and they passed on Reggie White. Can you imagine what (the Giants) would have been (with Lawrence Taylor there, too)?"

8. Asked what people will say when they see his Hall of Fame bust, Haley left us with this: "They gonna say, 'That's a good-looking brother."

With that, we say goodnight from Canton.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast covers the latest on Aldon Smith's release and breaks down the training camp stories flying under the radar.