Images from the Gold Jacket Ceremony at the NFL Hall of Fame. Former 49ers defensive end Charles Haley was inducted in the 2015 class.
CANTON, OHIO -- When reflecting on his illustrious NFL career, Charles Haley is adamant that he never felt overwhelmed on the football field.
The gridiron was the one place where everything made sense, and his focus was resolute – even when it didn't look like it. No matter the circumstances, Haley always expected that his team would win.
Well, except for one instance that is.
A day before his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Haley told reporters the story of how he became a winner – one that would go on to become the game's most decorated champion.
In Super Bowl XXIII, the San Francisco 49ers surrendered a field goal to the Cincinnati Bengals with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, a penalty pushed the 49ers back to their own 8-yard line.
"When they ran back and we had to go 90 yards, I stopped believing," Haley said. "I forgot the players we had on our team. I was sitting there on the end of the bench crying."
Of course, Joe Montana swiftly orchestrated an 11-play drive capped off by a 10-yard pass to John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown. The 49ers won, 20-16.
"That was the last time I had doubts in my teammates," Haley said. "That's what stands out. I lost my focus, but I never lost it again."
Haley used the lessons he learned that night throughout the rest of his 12-year career, which included four more Super Bowl wins.
Now more than three decades later, Haley is readying himself for his final moment in the sun. The legendary pass-rusher will take the stage in Canton on Saturday night to deliver a Hall of Fame speech he plans to dedicate to those who helped him accomplish so much.
"My thing is simple: There were a lot of great people who got me to where I am," Haley said. "It took me a long time to look back and understand that, but I do now. And I think it's time for me to give those people credit."
Among those who Haley will thank are two of the most influential figures in 49ers history: Bill Walsh and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who is also Haley's presenter.
"They taught me what a family was," Haley said. "I didn't play well with others, so they had to teach me what team was. And the way they did that was by caring for me. They knew my family's names, and they knew my kids names. So when you find people like that, you want to give that back to them."
As for his message to the Faithful, Haley kept it uncommonly brief.
"The only thing I want the fans to know is that I loved this game," Haley said. "I loved it with all my heart. I had the best time in the world, and I met some of the greatest people in the world. It's been so rewarding for me and my family. … I'm just excited. This is the proudest moment of my life."