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Charles Haley: The Man with Five Rings

Five rings. Two blazers. And a million stories in between.

Charles Haley will be enshrined in not one but two Hall of Fames in 2015. Yes, you read that correctly. The prolific defensive end, who spent eight seasons in the Bay Area, plus five years with the Dallas Cowboys, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.

Not bad at all.

Haley learned of his Canton selection prior to Super Bowl XLIX in February.

"It was the best moment of my life," the five-time Pro Bowler said. "I don't even know if I can put it into words… I never thought I was good enough to go to the NFL, I did, and now I'm in the Hall of Fame. People ask me, 'How many years did it take for you to get there?' I say, 'I don't know. All I care is that I'm in the house.'"

In the house, indeed.

Haley learned of his 49ers Hall of Fame induction a week before the 2015 NFL Draft.

"After getting the call (from 49ers vice president of football affairs Keena Turner), it takes a few days for it to sink in," Haley said. "I'm just so excited. I can't wait. I'm very excited and I don't know how to express the excitement that I have but to say I'm so pleased and so thankful that the 49ers looked at me and deemed me worthy to put me in their Hall of Fame."

Haley is the only player in NFL history to have won five Super Bowls, two with the 49ers and three more with the Cowboys. Haley's illustrious career saw him earn a pair of first-team All-Pro selections while racking up 100.5 sacks, tied for 29th-most in league history. Haley produced six double-digit sack seasons in his career.

"Charles Haley was one of the biggest impact players on the 49ers defense," Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana said of his feared teammate. "He was not only a big reason for the 49ers success on defense, but the team's success also. Just ask the Cowboys what he meant to their defense when he arrived! Plus, he has five Super Bowl rings. Who else can say that?"

Arguably the biggest draft steal in franchise history, the 49ers discovered Haley as a fourth-round draft pick in the 1986 NFL Draft out of James Madison.

Haley was added to a 49ers roster that had won two Super Bowls in the five seasons prior to his arrival. The two-time All-American at James Madsion immediately realized the hunger within San Francisco's locker room in his rookie season.

The dedication towards winning, a mantra that was reiterated by Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, was infectious to everyone in the building.

"The greatest thing about coming to the 49ers when I came into the league," Haley began, "was that we didn't know that we weren't supposed to do it. The guys talked about winning championships, winning Super Bowls. They had just come off winning a Super Bowl and that was instilled in us.

"Bill would bring in guys from the past who had won. It was just passed on. So I didn't know differently. I just thought that's what you're supposed to do. Every year you set a goal: Get the prize."

San Francisco improved from 14th in total defense to sixth in the league with Haley in the lineup in 1986. Haley manned a hybrid "Elephant" position, which allowed him to rotate both sides of the line based on the strength of the offense's formation.

"He was really quick off the ball, had great hands for pass rush and was really smart," former 49ers defensive line coach Bill McPherson said. "We worked him as a pass rusher and he really bought into it. He could go out there, if you wanted him to, and line up at any defensive position.

"Charles had great quickness and those hands got a lot of sacks. He buried the quarterback a lot."

With Haley carrying out his defensive duties, the 49ers won back-to-back Super Bowls in Haley's third and fourth seasons. The dominant edge rusher recorded 11.5 and 10.5 sacks in those years, respectively.

"I think what really made Charles Haley a great player is that he was one of those guys that could run over you, or he was so fast where he could run around you," said Haley's former defensive coordinator George Seifert, the franchise's Hall of Fame recipient in 2014. "I think that really made him unique. He just caused havoc on the football field. This guy could take over the ball game and there aren't that many guys as a defensive player that could take over the game like that. It was hard for offensive linemen to really block him because they didn't know if he was going to bull-rush them or if he was going to use his finesse to get around them.

"Charles was the ultimate player. He was not just about rushing the quarterback, though. I think as an offensive coordinator, you had to prepare for this guy in a very unique way and there's not that many guys, maybe Lawrence Taylor, that were so dominant on the line of scrimmage."

Haley remarked that his defensive teammates helped him carry out his assignments. Haley believed that without like-minded players alongside him on San Francisco's defense, he would have never recorded 326 tackles, 14 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries with the 49ers. Haley's best sack total came in 1990, when he recorded 16 sacks with San Francisco.

"When you've got a team that believes in each other, that can laugh, cry, get on each other, then you have the makings of a Super Bowl team, and I was fortunate enough to be on five of those teams," Haley said. "I realized if it wasn't for the other 10 guys that I played with, I couldn't have gotten my job done, I couldn't have gotten the sack or had an opportunity to be as good as I got… I am humbled by the fact that God has blessed me like that."

Haley considered the 49ers to be a family.

"We cared about each other," the defensive standout said. "We had a leader in Bill Walsh. He led by example."

Haley recalled Walsh's boxing-influenced pre-game speeches and how the legendary coach could lift the locker room to perform at their best no matter the opponent or circumstance.

It also didn't hurt that Haley's offensive teammates were some of the most gifted players in league history.

"We had Joe Montana," Haley began, "We had Jerry Rice. We had a lot of weapons, Roger Craig, J.T. (John Taylor), but let me tell you what, Joe and Jerry are amazing.

"Roger Craig, my God, he punished guys. He had a motor that would just not stop. I can't even get the words to really describe the passion he played with. I just wanted to emulate that.

"Most (defensive) guys in the NFL, they go to the sideline sucking air, I stood up to watch greatness in action."

Haley was impressed with how Rice, a player he dubbed, "Mr. Excitement," always had uniforms that seemed to stay in pristine condition.

In addition, Haley raved about Montana's ability to ignore the opposing pass rush and deliver quality passes to Rice, Taylor and other 49ers.

"All he cared about was, 'Did the receiver catch the ball?'" Haley said. "He didn't care if the offensive line missed their blocks.

"Joe was Mr. Cool, Mr. Confident. I always thought he had the weakest arm in the world because every pass was so soft. He never threw hard. Everything was timed. He read things so fast; he was so smart. He controlled everything on offense. He got it done; he was a doer."

Haley recalls his offensive teammates staying loose in tight games, but the Hall of Fame leader of San Francisco's defensive backfield, Ronnie Lott, had a different approach to gameday.

"We never got tense about the game because everyone was cracking jokes," Haley said. "Ronnie, on the other hand, I don't know if he ever smiled during a game. If he did, it was at the end if we won. He was intense. He had every tendency down. He would remind you about everything. It was guts and glory with him. He was the glue to the thing on defense. He didn't accept mediocrity. He didn't accept low standards – everyone had to perform to their max and above that.

The pass-rush master spent eight of his 13 NFL seasons terrorizing opposing quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers.

"The greatest thing I ever learned (from Ronnie) was when one soldier falls, somebody has to step in and take their place."

Haley was surrounded by greatness throughout his career. It trickled from Walsh down.

The lessons he learned from his legendary coach remain with him till this day.

"I could talk about Bill Walsh all day," Haley said. "I loved this man. He was one of the two coaches that I ever played for that got me to (unclench) my fist and let go of some of the hate. He taught me how to be a man."

Haley said he carried bitterness with him into his work. It was Walsh, who taught him how to seek out guidance to handle such issues.

"I was angry," Haley explained. "I was mean. I was hateful. But the way he taught me was, he never told me what to do; I've never had a coach do that. By not telling me what to do, there were consequences to my actions and I did not like that at all. One day, after I did something stupid, he came over and he was going to lay a fine on me, I said, 'Just tell me what to do.' And, he started walking away. And he said, 'You never asked.'

"It donned on me that if I asked for help, it was there for me. That changed my whole outlook in life. I'm not afraid to ask anyone anymore for help because he showed me."

The 49ers went on to trade Haley to the Cowboys in 1992. The trade arguably shifted the power in the NFC. With Haley as the cornerstone of their pass-rushing efforts, the Cowboys went on to win three Super Bowls.

"I left the greatest team on earth to come to the Cowboys and there was a lot of uncertainty, but when I came, God brought success along with me," Haley said of the trade. "I'm still stunned about it."

Haley said Walsh remained in contact with him throughout his football career. After he sat out the 1997 season, Walsh and the 49ers reached out to bring Haley back for two more seasons beginning in 1998.

"When Bill asked me to come back, I just felt such loyalty to him and to Mr. DeBartolo," Haley said. "They did so much for my family. Mr. D, he taught me what family was all about, the sacrifice, and the commitment."

Haley retired from football following the 1999 season. Following a 13-year run that saw him post the second-most sacks in team history, Haley was believed to be an attractive option to reach the Hall of Fame.

Although it took longer than he, or anyone associated with the 49ers and Cowboys expected, Haley is now in the hallowed club of pro football's all-time greats. He will be enshrined in August by DeBartolo.

Haley said he had no issue with the wait, which included stints as a semifinalist and finalist.

"If you're on that short list of 15 or 10," he said, "you are deserving. If it took me 100 years, it took me 100 years."

When asked if his fierce personality might have rubbed voters the wrong way, Haley offered a classic response.

"Sometimes to get excellence, you have to break some eggs."

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