Former Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers defensive standout Charles Haley, member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor and the NFL Hall of Fame, is the subject of a new edition of A Football Life. It's scheduled to premiere on the NFL Network following the alliterative Thursday night game between the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars, with a repeat at 9 PM ET on Friday. NFL Films Senior Producer Bennett Viseltear kindly provided me with a sneak preview of what he and co-producer Paul Monusky created, and if you are a fan of the Cowboys, 49ers, Haley, or just the NFL in general, this is must-see TV. While we are all stressed by the Cowboys' losing streak and excited by the imminent return of Tony Romo, this is a nice break that includes a welcome look back at the glory days of the early nineties.
Haley was one of the very best pass rushers the league has ever seen, but he also was one of the most troubled. He was known for his extreme mood swings that let to violent outbursts, including an incident detailed in the program when he put a hole in the wall of the Dallas locker room by throwing his helmet in frustration- barely missing Jerry Jones' head. It was not until 2010 that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which led to treatment that has allowed him to reclaim his life. Haley is remarkably open and honest about his own struggles and how it affected his career and family. Ironically, his former wife accurately diagnosed him years earlier from reading about mental issues, but that led to the marital strife that resulted in divorce. Haley was unable to accept what she told him. But he now is receiving medical care, and he and his ex-wife have raised four children who all are very intelligent and off to great starts in their own lives. Although his marriage suffered, all of them seem to have come through things well, including one daughter who was nearly lost to illness.
And Haley's issues in San Francisco turned out to have a tremendous silver lining for him and the Cowboys, when George Seifert decided he could not deal with Haley the way his predecessor Bill Walsh had. The (then) Los Angeles Raiders wanted to trade for him, but Seifert was not interested in seeing him go to their in-state rival and decided to make a deal with Dallas instead. It was a huge mistake for San Francisco and provided the Cowboys with the missing piece on defense that turned out to be instrumental in the three Super Bowl wins in four years, including key playoff wins over the 49ers.
The show also reveals one of the positive things that Jerry Jones brings to the Cowboys. Although he is often criticized and even mocked for his hands-on approach to his team, he also has as close a connection to his players as any owner in the league. Haley recounts how he came to Dallas feeling depressed and distraught about the trade, only to be met in the airport by Jones himself. It lifted his spirits and was the beginning of the close relationship to the team that continues to this day, with Haley serving as a consultant to help his former teammate Leon Lett in coaching and teaching the current players, including Randy Gregory who now wears Haley's (as well as DeMarcus Ware's) old number 94.
Another thing that stands out in the video is how intelligent Haley is. Several former coaches and teammates remark about how well he understood the game. He was not just extremely well versed in the details of defensive line play, but had a full grasp of the entire defense, which none could remember anyone else demonstrating. He even attended offensive meetings to learn more about that side of the ball. Haley is a living example that mental illness does not limit intelligence, and that football players are not by definition stupid.
This is another outstanding installment in an excellent series. If you get the NFL Network, you need to make sure you catch this. It is engrossing and entertaining, and a perceptive look at the human side of the game. And the highlights of Haley wreaking havoc wearing the Star are a lot of fun, too.