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Flashback: Has it been 20 years already?

Anytime a team wins a Super Bowl it’s special no matter how they get there. The last two Super Bowl Champions didn’t make it into the playoffs until the final game of the season. The Packers got in back in 2010 as the 6th seed and won it all and the Giants got in last season as the 4th seed and won it all. I’m sure the fans of those teams loved every second of the postseason as their teams got hot at the right time. The Giants were 6-6 in 2011 at one point and were left for dead by most experts as well as their fans. The Packers back in 2010 needed to win in the last week of the season along with some help to back into the playoffs. All of the bad things from the regular season were forgotten once these teams won the Super Bowl. It’s rare to have one of those magical seasons from beginning to end, but when it does happen it’s the greatest ride ever.

I realized the other day that it has been 20 years since the Cowboys had one of those magical seasons and went on to win the Super Bowl. Back in 1992 the Cowboys were on a mission from the first game of the season right through the Super Bowl. It seems like just yesterday as I can remember every game they played and how they became more dominant as the season went on. It was Jimmy Johnson’s fourth season as head coach and the Cowboys had ended the 1991 season with a horrible playoff loss to the Lions, 38-6. Some thought the Cowboys were probably still a year or two away from seriously competing for a championship. The Cowboys thought differently.

The Cowboys fielded the youngest team in the NFL in 1992. They also had the top ranked defense in the league, but when it came time for Pro Bowl selections not one player from the Cowboys defense was selected. The defense did not really have house hold names other than Charles Haley, who the Cowboys traded for before the start of the season. Haley was looked at as the final piece the Cowboys needed for their Super Bowl run. Some of the others joining Haley on that top ranked defense were Russell Maryland, Tony Casillas, Jim Jeffcoat, Tony Tolbert, Leon Lett, Ken Norton Jr., Vinson Smith, Robert Jones, Larry Brown, Thomas Everett, Kevin Smith, James Washington and Darren Woodson.

On offense it seemed as though the Cowboys were unstoppable most of the time. It started up front with Erik Williams, John Gesek, Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton and Mark Tuinei. From there defenses had to deal with Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper, Kelvin Martin, Jay Novacek and Daryl Johnston. With Norv Turner running the offense the Cowboys developed a balanced attack that opposing teams had a hard time defending them at times.

The Cowboys finished 1992 with a 13-3 record. There best record since going 12-2 back in 1977 when they went on to win Super Bowl XII. They were 7-1 at Texas Stadium in 1992. Their only loss was to the LA Rams 27-23. On the road they went 6-2 with losses to the Eagles 31-7 and the Redskins 20-17.  They beat out the Eagles for the NFC Eastern Division Championship, but came up short for home field advantage to the 49ers.

Here are a few games that will always stand out from that magical 1992 season.

Week 1: The Cowboys opened the season in Texas Stadium against the Redskins who were defending Champions. Issiac Holt Blocked a punt that went out of the end zone to give the Cowboys an early 2-0 lead and they never looked back. Emmitt Smith rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown and Kelvin Martin added a 79 yard punt return in the third quarter. The Cowboys went on to win 23-10.

Week 2: The Cowboys traveled to New Jersey to take on the Giants. It seemed to be no contest as the Cowboys jumped out to a 34-0 third quarter lead. The Giants scored twice before the end of the third quarter to make the score 34-14. What I remember most is that the scoreboard operator changed the score to show that the Giants had won the game 35-34 during the fourth quarter. The Giants did make it interesting, but the Cowboys held on for a 34-28 victory.

Week 9: Just a few weeks earlier the Cowboys were crushed by the Eagles 31-7 in Philadelphia. In the rematch the Cowboys defense took a stand and dominated as they only allowed 190 yards to the Eagles offense. Emmitt Smith rushed for 163 yards as the Cowboys won 20-10 and improved to 7-1.

Week 10: The Cowboys ended the 1991 season with a 38-6 loss in the playoffs to the Lions. In 1992 the Cowboys made a return trip to Detroit, but this time it would end much different. Emmitt Smith scored three touchdowns and Michael Irvin had 114 yards receiving and a touchdown. The Cowboys defense only allowed 201 yards to the Lions offense as they cruised to a 37-3 victory.

Week 13: It was Thanksgiving at Texas Stadium and the Giants were coming for a visit. Unlike the first match-up with the Giants this time it would not be close. The Cowboys defense once again dominated as they collected four sacks and only allowed 207 yards to the Giants offense. Emmitt Smith rushed for 120 yards and scored twice, which included a 68 yard score in the third quarter. The Cowboys improved to 10-2 with a 30-3 victory.

Week 16: The Cowboys traveled to Atlanta for a Monday Night game looking to lock up the NFC East title. The game included one of the most incredible runs in Emmitt Smith’s career. He seemed to get stopped by a wall of Falcon defenders, but then he bounced away and broke free down the right sideline as he beat Deion Sanders to the end zone for a 29 yard touchdown run. Smith added another 29 yard score and rushed for 174 yards. Troy Aikman completed 18 of 21 passes and threw three touchdown passes. The Cowboys won their first NFC East title since 1985 as they beat the Falcons 41-17.

Divisional Playoffs: For the third time in 1992 the Cowboys would be playing the Eagles and for the second time at Texas Stadium. It was also the first playoff game at Texas Stadium since 1983. Once again the Cowboys dominated the Eagles and won 34-10. The Cowboys defense only allowed 178 yards to the Eagles offense and sacked Randall Cunningham five times. Emmitt Smith added 114 yards and a score.

NFC Championship: Leading up to this game there seemed to be two stories. One was the last time the Cowboys played in San Francisco for the NFC Championship back in 1981, which ended with “The Catch” by Dwight Clark. The other was the muddy field conditions after a week of soaking rains. None of that mattered to this Cowboys team as they showed no fear against the 14-2 49ers led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice. What always comes to mind was early in the game Kevin Smith left the field for a play with a shoulder injury. On the next play Young connected with Rice on a long touchdown as he beat Issiac Holt who replaced Smith. But the 49ers were called for holding and the touchdown was called back. It seemed as though from that point on the Cowboys had the upper hand. The Cowboys defense controlled the 49ers offense and the Cowboys offense was able to move the ball and control the clock as they built a 24-13 fourth quarter lead. Young was able to bring the 49ers to within 24-20 late in the fourth quarter and most thought that Jimmy Johnson would try to get a few first downs and run out the clock. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff Troy Aikman connected with Alvin Harper across the middle as the defender fell down. Harper broke free and was finally taken down at the 49ers ten yard line after a 70 yard gain. From there Aikman sealed the game with a short touchdown pass to Kelvin Martin. The Cowboys beat the 49ers 30-20 to advance to Super Bowl XXVII. It was the first Super Bowl for the Cowboys since 1978. It was also the game that will be known for Jimmy Johnson yelling in the locker room “How bout them Cowboys!!”

http://youtu.be/6EL55yXzqVM

 

Super Bowl XXVII: My first ever Cowboys game was Super Bowl XII against the Broncos back in 1977. I can’t really say I knew what was happening, but I remembered the star on the helmet. Now 15 years later I was enjoying every second of the Super Bowl including all the pregame leading up to it. I couldn’t wait to see the Cowboys name in the end zone as well as watching the player introductions. I took it all in and remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember the Cowboys being down 7-0 to the Bills after getting a punt blocked, which led to a Thurman Thomas touchdown. From that point on it was all Cowboys as they outscored the Bills 52-10. The Cowboys defense recovered five fumbles and collected four interceptions for a record nine turnovers in the game. The defense also scored two touchdowns by Jimmie Jones and Ken Norton Jr. It could have been three touchdowns and a Super Bowl record 59 points, but we all know what happened when Leon Lett celebrated too soon on his fumble return. Troy Aikman earned the game’s MVP as he competed 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Emmitt Smith added 114 yards and a touchdown and Michael Irvin added two touchdowns. All the great numbers aside, what really meant the most was the incredible journey from that 1992 season and then seeing the team holding the Lombardi Trophy and celebrating. It was a feeling unlike any feeling I have ever felt as fan.

It’s just so hard to believe that it has been 20 years since that magical season of 1992. The players have long been gone, but will never be forgotten. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin have all entered the Hall of Fame. Watching Jimmy Johnson every Sunday on Fox always brings back great memories. Charles Haley has been helping out the Cowboys defensive linemen recently as well as waiting for his own name to be called for the Hall of Fame. We also remember Mark Tuinei who passed away too soon back in 1999.

The 1992 Cowboys will always be remembered as one of the great Cowboys teams of all time as well as one of the great NFL teams of all time. Their magical season will never be forgotten.

“How bout them Cowboys!!”

 

 

Building a Hall of Fame Case For Charles Haley

Charles Haley. Man, what can I say about this guy.

When you think of success, in terms of football, one of the first images that should pop into anyone’s mind is Charles Haley. No player had more success than he did.

To be on five Super Bowl teams and have five Super Bowl rings is an accomplishment that no one has been able to match, and I doubt if anyone else ever will.

The addition of free agency and salary caps have prevented dynasties from surviving in the NFL. “The teams that do stay intact, like the Patriots, are unusual,” to paraphrase my idol, Paul Zimmerman.

Therefore, it is almost impossible for a man to be on five different teams and win the Super Bowl. He’d have to be a mid-level player for one, because teams try to lock up their stars for several years.

He’d also have to be extremely lucky as well.

But, Charles Haley was more than that. Charles Haley was a difference maker. Charles Haley was a man that scared opponents. He made every defensive line he played on a better line. He made every linebacking corp he played with a better crew, and he was probably the most angry and violent man to ever play professional football.

This defensive end/outside linebacker belongs in the Hall of Fame.

To truly understand why this man is a must for a Hall of Fame, you have to look at the player. You can’t just look at numbers. You have to get inside Charles Haley’s head and understand what kind of player was he.

Was he driven? Was he a leader? Was he a locker-room cancer? Was he someone who made clutch plays? Was he a constant threat to other teams? Did his teammates respect him?

All of those things come into perspective now. We are talking about the Hall of Fame here. Charles Haley is on a list with 14 guys, and only a maximum of five of those men are going into Canton this year, and with two slots being locks for Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, that means Charles Haley will have to beat out a minimum of ten players for a bust in Canton.

For voters to choose Charles Haley, they will need to judge every aspect of Charles Haley besides the statistics he has on football websites.

Charles Haley was born in Gladys, Virginia on January 6, 1964. He went to James Madison University and is the best player to ever come from there.

Since James Madison is not relatively known for its NFL talent or has what one would call a high competition level, Haley’s success there was overlooked.

However, arguably the greatest talent judge of all time, Bill Walsh, saw something in Charles Haley.

In 1986,  Bill Walsh realized that the 1986 draft really was weak in terms of talent. “One of our chief scouts after the draft said to other people, “That’s the worst draft I’ve ever seen.””

Walsh realized that he could make trades and accumulate multiple draft picks in order to really build depth to the 49ers. He turned eight draft picks into 14 through a variety of trades.

Out of those 14 picks, he drafted eight starters for at least one Super Bowl, most started two, in the 88-89 Super Bowls.

Walsh and his assistants saw Charles Haley in the fourth round, and Walsh knew that Haley was something to get.

Haley had very long arms that could extend and get to the passer. He was 6-5, around 250 lbs and very fast. An ideal defensive end.

Combine physical talent with Haley’s almost Viking-like warrior persona and an intense dedication that was rivaled by few, and you get a great football player.

Haley was frequently used as a pass-rusher his rookie year, and he compiled 12 sacks, despite the fact that he was playing linebacker instead of his college position of defensive end.

His second year, he only played in 12 games, and the Niners were upset by the Vikings in the playoffs.

However, in Haley’s first year as a starter at left outside linebacker, he was elected to the Pro Bowl with11.5 sacks, and the Niners won their third Super Bowl title.

Remember that the left outside linebacker is really, to the quarterbacks point of view, on the right. So, Haley managed to record 11.5 sacks with the quarterback able to see him coming most of the time since most quarterbacks are right-handed.

I’d like to know how many sacks he would have gotten if he had rushed on the quarterback’s blind side.

Not only was Haley crowned a champion, he also was recognized as a great player by one of the game

“Charles is one of the greatest players of our era,” said 49ers Vice President/General manager/Head Coach Bill Walsh. “At one point he was considered the best pass rusher in all of football. He’s been a credit to the game and very well could be a Hall of Fame candidate.”

Bill Walsh understood Charles Haley and how to deal with a man like Haley. Haley was… I can’t spin it or try to fudge the facts, he was crazy. The guy was nuttier than a cuckoo clock.

He was a manic-depressive. He could be happy and sweet as well as helpful with other players, and down and mean as a mother-in-law the next.

One of the most common similes used today to describe someone when they’re mad is to compare them to a volcano. I think that simile is used as a hyperbole too often.

Yet, that simile is what one can use to perfectly describe Charles Haley. He had so much anger in him that it did come out like ash and lava out of a volcano when he lost his temper.

He even wrote an autobiography entitled, All The Rage, which was a first person perspective of the thoughts and words of Charles Haley himself.

It really is a book that I would recommend because it can help one understand how an NFL player would think, and how to handle people with severe psychological problems.

He also was a guy who would ride you. You could not have thin skin or sensitive feelings around Haley. He was always testing you. He made fun of Joe Montana’s nose, he went after Troy Aikman’s crooked smile, he messed with Deion Sanders’ uniforms, and he even went after Jimmy Johnson’s hair.

Haley accepted teasing as well. People would talk about his head, how it was pointy and shaped like a bullet.

Some could take it, some couldn’t. Matt Millen, a highly talented linebacker for the Raiders joined the 49ers in 1989, and he said, “Now, I get to the 49ers.Within a week, I want to kill him.”

No one was safe from Charles Haley. The players needed to have thick skin or he’d eat them alive.

One of Haley’s closest friends and largest supporters is Hall of Fame cornerback/safety Ronnie Lott. Ronnie Lott was the guy that could keep Haley from going over the edge whenever Haley started pushing it too far and becoming a locker room chaos.

After the 1988 season, Bill Walsh retired from the 49ers. Defensive coordinator George Seifert was chosen to replace Walsh, and Haley was not happy with the transition.

Seifert did not know how to talk to Charles Haley. Seifert was not a good choice for a mediator, and as a coach, you have to be able to talk to your players, especially with guys like Charles Haley.

An excerpt of Haley’s book tells of what George Seifert was like as a communicator.

“When I was in San Francisco, Seifert’s way of dealing with black players was to bring in Harry Edwards. Dr. Edwards is a professor of sociology at Cal-Berkeley. He used to be a radical, but now I think he’s all about the money. Give him a check and he’ll help your team solve its racial problems. It was kind of pathetic, really. He’d come around, acting like he belonged, telling stories about how he used to be with the Black Panthers and shit. Most guys would just try to ignore him. We all knew why he was there: to be the mediator between the coaching staff and the black players. It was like Seifert said, “I’ll handle the white guys, you talk to the black guys.” What kind of bull**** is that?”

Bill Walsh was not that kind of coach. He talked to all of his players, and Haley respected him for it, but Seifert did not make that effort.

Since the 49ers were such a dominant team to begin with, the 89 season was really a breeze for them to repeat. They were 14-2 and blew out the Broncos in  Super Bowl XXIV 55-10.

One signature play in that game was when John Elway throws an interception to Michael Walter, and that would not have happened had Charles Haley not been in his eyesight. Elway could not see Walter because Haley’s pass rush prevented him from seeing that Walter was in a position to intercept the ball.

Charles Haley was the owner of two Super Bowl rings with that victory. Things did not go well after that though.

After losing the 1990 NFC Championship game to the New York Giants, the 49ers did not resign Ronnie Lott, and Lott went to the Los Angeles Raiders instead.

Matt Millen said, “It was like the ship was rudderless, and that drove Charles crazy. And so, when Ronnie left, they lost Charles Haley at the same time.”

Charles Haley said in an NFL Films interview, “Just seeing the anger and hurt in his (Ronnie Lott’s) eyes man, and that hurt went over into me and uh, because I’m a loyal friend, I could not deal with it, I could not deal with it. It just festered into everything. I just started hating being here, hated wearing the uniform.”

Forget money, strength, physical attractiveness,  and all that other stuff; my main criteria for the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with great play is great character and there is no greater measure of character than loyalty to one’s friends.

The bond that Haley shared with Lott is one that I can describe best by another use of Haley’s book.

It was 1991. The Raiders had Ronnie Lott on their team. The 49ers were in Los Angeles, and the Raiders are a decent team that finished 9-7, but the Niners should have beaten them.

The Niners didn’t even score a touchdown. They lost 12-6 in what I would definitely call an embarrassing fashion with Steve Young throwing two interceptions.

Losses like this happen though, right? This was more than just a “loss,” this was the final blow to the already unstable and frustrated Charles Haley.

“My frustration reached a peak in the fifth week of the ‘91 season, when we lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, Ronnie Lott’’s new team. After the game I had a slight nervous breakdown–or whatever you want to call it. Basically I lost control and gave the 49ers reason to believe that I really was crazy. It just seemed like I was the only guy out there playing hard, and I went up to George and told him, “You know, you’ve got to start coming down on these guys.” Everybody had big contracts, everybody was fat, with full pockets. They weren’t playing hard anymore. They weren’t hungry. But when you try to point out something like that, when you try to express your opinion, coaches always think, You’re a dumb-*** football player and you can’t tell me anything.

I tried, though. Man, did I try. When the game ended those motherf****** came in, and I really gave it to them. I started cussing out the whole team. George got sick of listening to me, I guess, so he grabbed my arm, and when he did that I just lost it. I took a swing right at his smug little head. Fortunately, I missed. But I did hit the wall, and it hurt so much–left a big knuckle print–that I got even more pissed off. I started bouncing around, cursing, yelling, throwing s***. Then I put my hand through a window and cut it to pieces. They had to stitch me up in the locker room.

I don’t know what I was thinking. My temper had gotten me in trouble before, but this was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was in a complete f******* rage. Some of the other players tried to hold me down after a while, but I wouldn’t let them. Finally, they tracked down Ronnie in the other locker room, and he came running in. I remember he was half-naked–shorts, no shirt, no shoes. He sat down next to me, held my hand, and kept telling me everything would be all right. I just sat there shaking, crying. It was so emotional. I can’t really explain what happened, except to say that I felt like they were trying to destroy me…and they almost succeeded.”

That is as close to brotherhood as you will find. To find a man like Charles Haley, who is one of the toughest men to ever step on a football field and is willing to let another man hold his hand as he is crying is the ultimate symbol of trust.

That was the beginning of the end for Charles Haley. After the 91 season, the 49ers made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys, exchanging Charles Haley for a pair of second and third-round draft picks.

You can quote me on this. It was the trade that finished the championship roster for the Dallas Cowboys.

In 1991, the Cowboys had allowed 310 points to finish 17th in the league in defense. After Haley showed up in 1992, the Cowboys were 5th in defense and allowed only 243 points for the season.

The only change to the defensive starting roster was Charles Haley. He brought a championship attitude. A guy who had two rings in the Niners dynasty and was still as hungry as fox in a chicken house. His strength and leadership made the defense dominant enough for the Cowboys to win Super Bowl XXVII.

One play that really changed the momentum of the Cowboys in that game was when Jimmie Jones caught a fumble in mid-air on the two yard line and he dived into the endzone as fast as he could.

The only reason that play happened was because Charles Haley got his hand on Jim Kelly and forced the fumble.

Dallas got the lead with that play and never gave it back. It was one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history with a score of 52-17.

A year later, they won it all again. The Cowboys beat the Bills again with a score of 30-13.

Charles Haley became one of the few players in NFL history to have four Super Bowl rings. It is hard to get one ring, but four?

Who would have thought that he’d be getting one for the thumb in two years when the Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-20 in Super Bowl XXX.

That would be the end of championships, but not challenges for Charles Haley. He would later face a challenge that you cannot defeat by working out or sacking the quarterback or winning a Super Bowl. He would have to face the challenge of a father.

His daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Nothing hurts more to a man than when he sees his little girl in pain, and he cannot do anything to stop it. That and an injured back led Charles Haley to retire from football in 1996.

He was there for her and her fight to overcome it made him realize that he could come back to football. At the age of 35, he came back to football in 1999. He would rejoin his former team, the 49ers, who now had Bill Walsh back in charge as the Vice President and General Manager. Haley was welcomed with open arms.

It is strange though when you think of it. He’s got injuries, he has five Super Bowl rings, he definitely had done enough to be considered for the Hall of Fame. Why come back?

It is the same reason as a lot of people. For the love of the game, he came back and played.

Another oddity about Haley is that he doesn’t wear his rings. He said, “I believe that if I put it away, then I’d always keep driving and trying to get another one.” He doesn’t even remember where he put them. That’s the kind of man he is.

And you know what? He’s right. It is human nature for us to have goals and a lot of the times as we get closer to our goals or once we complete them, we lose our will to keep climbing the mountain. Charles Haley never would let that happen to him. That’s why he was a part of five championship teams.

He never wanted to stop winning, and he never did stop. After the 1999 season, he retired. He realized that he would probably end up in a full body cast if he kept playing.

Despite all the things that he may have done off the field (I’m not going to get into details because this is a PG-13 case at most), he’s a Hall of Famer. Even Jeff Pearlman, the author of the tell-all book “Boys Will Be Boys” that states all the activities, legal and illegal, of the 1990s Cowboys, believes the man belongs in the Hall of Fame which he stated on the Jim Rome Show.

If this guy, who knows everything good and bad, Charles Haley has done says he belongs, how can anyone argue he doesn’t belong?

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