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Charles Haley Delivers Laughs, Emotion in Hall of Fame Speech

CANTON, OHIO -- Humble, grateful, soft-spoken and downright charming.  

Many years ago, none of these words would've been likely describers for Charles Haley.

But on Saturday evening, a man known for his fiery competitive spirit showed a gentler side – one that epitomizes his growth since walking away from football in 1999.

Haley, in front of more than 20,000 fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, officially entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame by thanking all who touched his life.

Haley began his enshrinement speech by telling a story about the man who presented him, former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

"Eddie took me down to Pebble Beach to play golf," Haley said. "You know I don't know how to play golf, right? Well, I'm driving the golf cart, and I drive it up on the green. OK, so Eddie and all those guys are laughing at me. And some guy behind us is going like, 'Get off the green.' And I'm going like, 'What is he talking about?'

"So I go to the next hole, and I drive up on the green. I said, 'If this guy comes and talks again, I'm going to knock him out.' So I started driving up there again and Eddie tells me, 'Hey, you can't drive up on the green.' I said, 'All this stuff is green.'"

The crowd erupted in laughter. Haley turned around and smiled at DeBartolo before returning to the mic to continue expressing gratitude.

"I'd like to thank Mr. D for stepping up to be the greatest owner that I ever played for," Haley said. "He was passionate, and he was very confident in his team. He's done so many great things for me."

The most heartfelt and profound part of Haley's speech came when the legendary pass-rusher spoke about his family.

He recognized his four children – Madison, C.J., Brianna and Princess. He reminisced about growing up with his four brothers – George, Lawrence, David and James. He called his mom, Virginia, his "best friend." And he said his dad "always set an example for the family."

Then Haley opened up about his battle with mental illness, and how it affects him still today.

"My ex-wife, Karen, she diagnosed me in 1988," Haley said. "But I never really listened, nor did I step up to the plate and do something about it. My life spiraled out of control for years.

"But today, I get to go back into the locker room and tell guys the mistakes I made. And that the only way you can grow is you have to ask for help. I walked into the league as a 22-year-old man with a 16-year-old inside of him screaming for help. But I would not ask for it. But today, I take my medicine every day. And I try to inspire others to do the same."

The final portion of Haley's talk went back to the football field. In his 12-year career, Haley won 10 division champions, five Super Bowls and two NFC Defensive Player of the Year awards. But the new Hall of Famer gave the credit for those accomplishments to his teammates and coaches.

Among a lengthy list of men Haley cited were Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Keena Turner.

"I played with some of the greatest players in the history of football," Haley said. "The one thing I learned from those guys is unselfish plays and that team matters. We need to go back to that. It's not about individuals, it's about team. That's the only way you can have success."

Then there was Bill Walsh. Haley saved his closing remarks for the coach who took a shot on him coming out of a small school like James Madison in 1986.

"He was a Hall of Famer, but he was more to me," Haley said. "He followed me my whole career. I used to go to Stanford when he was the head coach. He would stop and come over to listen to me whine. Two days before he died, he called me and still was asking me, 'What can I do to help?' I will always love him with all my heart. He was really special to me."

Haley left the crowd with a few parting words to sum up his storied career.

"When I stepped out on that field, I was determined to be the best every play," Haley said. "Not some plays, but every play. Guys, thank you so much."

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