Charles Haley is the first player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

In a dozen NFL seasons – seven with the San Francisco 49ers and five with the Dallas Cowboys – Haley was on ten division-winning teams.  Always the most intimidating player on the field, he played in five NFC Championship games and five Super Bowls and won them all.  His final season marked the only year Haley played on a team with a losing record.  Prior to that, the fewest number of wins in a season for a team with Haley on the roster was ten.

Haley recorded 100.5 sacks in 169 games.  He also made 498 tackles – 485 of them solo.  A relentless pass rusher, Haley recorded double-digit sacks in six of his 12 seasons.  He was twice named NFC Defensive Player of the Year: first as a Niner and then with Dallas.  In 1990, Haley was named First Team All-Pro as an outside linebacker.  Four years later, the versatile defender made First Team All-Pro at defensive end.

Numbers don’t really even come close to telling the full story on Charles Haley.

Taken by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 1986 NFL draft,  Haley quickly developed into one of the league’s most devastating pass rushers. He made the 1986 All-Rookie Team and led the Niners in sacks in each of his first six seasons from his outside linebacker position.  Haley registered four double-digit sack totals with San Francisco, including 12 as a rookie and an NFC-leading 16 in 1990.

At 6’5″ and 252 pounds, Haley was nearly unstoppable.  He changed the power structure in the NFC in the 1990s and is one of the most dominant pass rushers of his time.  Coming out of Division I-AA James Madison, Haley attracted little attention after running a 4.8 40-yard dash at the 1986 NFL Combine.  When a 49ers scout clocked Haley at 4.55, San Francisco stole him with the 96th overall pick in the draft.

Haley played with speed, agility and violence.  He made the Pro Bowl in his third season and played in five overall: three with San Francisco and two with Dallas.  Playing at outside linebacker-defensive end, he was in the top ten in the NFL in sacks four times.  Haley forced 26 fumbles in his career and was top ten in the league in that category three times.

Haley is the first player out of James Madison University ever selected in the NFL draft.

Born in Gladys, Virginia, January 6, 1964, Charles Lewis Haley’s parents each worked two jobs to support the family.  The middle of five boys, Charles was unmotivated as a child.  “I was always the short, fat kid,” recalled Haley.  “And I was a clown.  I never knew how to work hard.”  That all changed in ninth grade, when Haley sprouted five inches.

At William Campbell High School, he was a three-year starter in football and All-District in basketball.  But Haley had trouble controlling his temper. “I was expelled more than I was in school,” said Haley.  “They would expel me on Monday, bring me back on Friday to play in the game, and then I’d finish up my expulsion the next week.”

Lightly recruited coming out of high school, Haley accepted the only scholarship offer he got, from nearby James Madison University.  He became an instant standout, playing both inside and outside linebacker as well as defensive end.  Haley led the Dukes in tackles and finished his four seasons in Harrisonburg as the leading tackler in school history.  He was named First-Team Division I-AA All-American in 1985, the first player JMU player ever to earn that honor.

Haley’s nasty demeanor extended beyond the football field.  In 1991, he erupted in the 49ers locker room following a loss to the Raiders.  Haley took a swing at head coach George Siefert and berated quarterback Steve Young.  The volatile 27-year-old had a meltdown, putting his hand through a wire mesh window then bawling uncontrollably.  The following year –
desperate to rid themselves of their troubled superstar – the Niners practically gave Haley away, sending him to Dallas for second- and third-round draft picks.

Following Charles Haley’s arrival from San Francisco, the Dallas Cowboys won three of the next four Super Bowls.

The Cowboys moved Haley to defensive end, where he immediately became the puzzle piece Dallas was missing.  Haley helped the ‘Boys improve from 17th in total defense to first, and Dallas captured Super Bowl titles in 1992 and
1993.  Haley underwent back surgery in 1994, returned, then ruptured a disk ten games into the 1995 season.  He underwent another surgery and returned six weeks later to help Dallas to its third world championship in four years.

After his troubled back limited Haley to just five games in 1996, he stepped away from football.  He returned in 1998, signing with San Francisco for their playoff run.  Haley’s final season came in 1999, where the 34-year-old played in all 16 games for the Niners.

Haley, who has had one back surgery for every one of his five Super Bowl rings, retired from football in 1999.  A few years later, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Haley self-medicated with painkillers and alcohol.
His 19-year marriage ended in divorce and Haley lost touch with his four children.  In 2012, he found a new course of treatment and got his life back in order.  Finally able to control his anger, Haley rebuilt his relationship with his children, and he and his ex-wife are now good friends.  Today, Haley works with low-income school kids and mentors players with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Charles Haley was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, the same year he was elected to the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame.  A member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame, Haley joined the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2011.

On this date in 1986, the San Francisco 49ers selected Charles Haley with the 96th overall selection of the NFL draft.  Haley is the only player taken in the ’86 draft who landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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  1. So glad to see that Charles got his life back in order and is again close to his family. He is a good man to be working with young people who are struggling, it says more about him than his five rings. Charles is a true Hall of Famer – in both football and in life.

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