The case for Charles Haley

By PHIL BARBER

The Pro Football Hall of Fame vote is an annual side attraction to the Super Bowl, with each year’s enshrinees announced the day before the game.

This year, a lot of the Bay Area attention is focused on Eddie DeBartolo, the owner who oversaw (and funded) the 49ers teams that won five Super Bowls between the 1981 and 1994 seasons. DeBartolo is hailed as a model owner, though his embarrassing exit from the game, forced by the NFL when he was caught up in a Louisiana graft scandal, no doubt works against him.

There is another prominent 49er up for election, and he, too, has strong football credentials balanced by personal baggage. That is defensive end/linebacker Charles Haley, who played seven seasons with the Niners (1986-1991, and again in 1999) and five with the Dallas Cowboys (1992-96). Haley was the best pass rusher on most of those teams, and finished his career with just over 100 sacks.

More important, he is the only player in history to win five Super Bowls, two in SF and three in Dallas. His teams won 10 division titles in 12 seasons.

“When you talk about five Super Bowl rings, there’s not many people that have five Super Bowl rings,” said 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman, who knew Haley as both as a teammate and an opponent. “And to be able to play at the level that he played, had the impact that he had as a football player out on the football field, I mean, I don’t know how many guys have been able to do that consistently. I don’t think there’s any question he deserves to get in.”

Michael Irvin, himself a Hall of Famer and another who saw Haley from both perspectives, agrees.

“Very rarely do you get a guy like a Charles Haley,” Irvin told me. “You never have to worry about what he gives you on the football field, it’s always gonna be all-out. And not only will he play all-out, he’s going to make sure everybody on that defense plays all-out.”

Should Haley have a bust in Canton already? “Yesteryear,” Irvin said.

The problem for Haley is that he was almost universally reviled by sportswriters, who do the voting for the Hall of Fame. He was a bully who mocked, harassed and even physically threatened reporters throughout his career. And he wasn’t loved by all his teammates, either. Famously, he urinated on Tim Harris’ car when the two were competing for snaps and sacks with the 49ers.

“I understand the voters, and I appreciate all their hard work. I really do,” Irvin said. “I appreciate them trying to uphold the dignity, the class of the Hall of Fame. I understand that. Even though the bylaws say personal situations should not be a determining factor of why or why not a player gets in, I understand humanity is real. So you’re going to have personal feelings. But by not putting a guy in this long, by leaving him out this long, who has clearly, clearly been such an intricate part of five championships, I think there’s hypocrisy there.”

Former wide receiver Jerry Rice, considered by some to be the greatest NFL player ever, also supports Haley’s candidacy. As far as he’s concerned, the only controversy was the 49ers’ letting the athletic defender leave.

“I just can’t believe we traded him to Dallas,” Rice said. “I’m like, ‘Why would you trade him to Dallas?’ And I think he went on to win two or three more Super Bowls? Come on, man.”

The selection committee members will sequester themselves in a room tomorrow, state their cases, argue and swap votes. Results will be announced immediately after, broadcast live.

I spoke to Ira Miller, the long-time San Francisco Chronicle writer who has been a great help to this blog. Ira has a vote and has long been an advocate for DeBartolo. He still considers DeBartolo a long shot, though he says Jed York’s uncle has a much better chance of getting in than late Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell.

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