(Above photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
CANTON, Ohio – Former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo will introduce Charles Haley at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t Charles Haley that DeBartolo wanted to talk about Friday. It was another former 49ers’ pass rusher.
“I feel so bad for him,” DeBartolo said after Smith was released by the 49ers. “He could’ve been another Charles Haley.”
Haley, of course, is the former problem child who left the 49ers in 1992 after coaches couldn’t control him … who went to Dallas where he won three of his five Super Bowl rings … and who now is one of eight inductees joining the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night.
If anyone should know Aldon Smith, it’s Charles Haley. And, as it turns out, he does.
“I know Aldon,” said Haley. “I was working with him, trying to help him and I’m not done yet. I ask each of these kids: ‘Am I for you or against you?’ If they say I’m for him, I’m going to be for them from now on as long as they stay out of trouble.
“The kid made a mistake. He might have made one or two mistakes. But we learn from mistakes … if he’s willing to learn from them. And, if he is, I’ll be there to help him through it. That’s what we all have to do.
“He’s me. When I came into the league, there was a 10-year-old inside of me screaming for help but was afraid to ask for help. I didn’t get help until after I was done with football. I was always wanting help but was afraid to get it.
“It hurts me because I feel I let the kid down. I wasn’t there when he needed me. I have to also understand that he has to take responsibility, too. He knew I’d be there within 24 hours if he needed me. He didn’t call out.”
Haley learned his life’s lesson the hard way. After winning two Super Bowls in San Francisco he lost his best friend and closest ally, Ronnie Lott, when the 49ers let him walk in 1991. Haley blamed then-coach George Seifert for Lott’s exit and was so tough on Seifert and his staff that they got rid of him, too. The 49ers knew he was a great player, but they also knew he difficult to be around … and, more importantly, difficult to coach.
But Haley learned from his mistakes, and now apologizes for his behavior. In fact, he said he’s apologized to Seifert for the way he treated him. So he knows mistakes can be corrected. And he knows sad stories can have happy endings.
Look where he is today.
“The Hall of Famers here talk about this fraternity,” Haley said. “But this fraternity needs to be turned from the inside to the outside to help these young guys. They have no clue. We can go out and impact these guys. I want these guys to be better than me. They say, `Charles, I could play with you.’ But I say, `No, you need to play better than me. You need to be a better man than me.’ That’s what I try to tell the youth today. I bleed this game and I don’t want people to screw it up for us. When I pass away, I want this game to be still kicking.”
Asked if he’d reached out to Smith, Haley said he had not. But he promised he would.
“I have not because I’ve been doing all the stuff here,” he said. “But I have a phone call from him. Whatever it takes. If he needs me, I’m going. If I have to leave tonight before the ceremony, if he needs me I’ll go.
“I’m bipolar. I knew something was wrong because everyone kept telling me something was wrong. But I thought everyone was just putting me down. Instead of dealing with the problem, I ran from it. And I pushed everyone away that ever said anything about it. Today I get to go talk to guys who have mental illness, that have depression (and) I can tell them about my struggles.
“We need to change this. A lot of these kids have been through some shit. I think I’ve been through some shit, but, when I sit there and listen, these kids have been through way worse than I ever thought about going through. They really need intense friends…guys who played to be there to help them through this stuff.”