By Jim Schutze
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He walks with a slight limp, as though the floor were tilted. He cannot sit his 6-feet-5-inch, 255-pound frame for more than 30 minutes in one stretch; anything more, and the pain sometimes becomes too much to bear. Sometime in the near future, the 33-year-old will have to have his spine fused to eliminate the pain...as much as possible. Such are the consequences of being the most violent man in the
most violent of sports, of causing so much pain himself.
Throughout his 11-year career with the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, Charles Haley was among the game's most vicious practitioners. The defensive end recorded almost 100 sacks from 1986 to '96, battered and bruised as many quarterbacks as he could get his hands on; he played defense like it was offense, racking up his own kind of points. The five Super Bowl rings he owns--and only he can make such a claim, the lone man in history with a literal fistful of NFL championship gold--are proof he was among the best who ever played the game.
Accordingly, he has long been portrayed as a savage man off the field, as well--as someone who does not listen to coaches, who belittles his teammates, who refuses to speak to the media (how dare he). When Haley came to Dallas in 1993, it was uttered not so silently that he was run out of San Francisco because of certain "mental" problems. Word was, Haley was dangerous crazy, mean to children and old people. Haley has long been aware of the label; it has dogged him since his days in college, when he played at James Madison in Virginia.
"When I went to college, the first story they wrote about me said, 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' and they didn't even know me," he says now, sitting patiently through an hourlong interview, never mentioning his back pain till his interviewer does. The man who once shouted down writers in the locker room now answers questions happily, easily; it's as though all those years of saying nothing have left him wanting to spill everything. "They didn't even know nothing about me, and that's the first thing they write. They're saying he's mild-mannered, but then he turns into a monster, you know what I'm sayin'? Now, everybody knows football players have a job to do, but that doesn't make me a monster because I have to go out there and be violent."
Haley has never felt the need to explain himself, and yet this month, the New York-based publishing house Andrews McMeel has released All the Rage, an autobiography from a guy who couldn't even find the words at his own retirement news conference. Haley says that he long resisted writing this book, but that his wife and lawyer pushed him to do so--if only to let the man long portrayed as a monster prove something deeper was underneath the raging surface.
"If I had to say one reason why I wrote the book, it was I just wanted people to understand the real me and what drove me--what drives me," he says, correcting himself. "I only say the truth as I know it. You know, I'm not obligated...I didn't have to write a book just so I could make money and, you know, just for the hell of it and to slander everybody. I just feel the way I feel, and if people agree, they agree; if they don't, they know I'm being honest."
In All the Rage, Haley (with assistance from sports writer Joe Layden) tells of the "prankster" who kids around with his teammates during practice and before games; he tells of messing with Deion Sanders' pristine uniform, of getting Troy Aikman to choke on his chewing tobacco. He recounts the methods he used to get psyched up in the moments before he would take the field, the blood-sport chants of maim...mutilate...death they would repeat before walking down the tunnel leading into the stadium.
He writes as he played, leaving no one standing. Throughout the book, he hints in vague terms of drug use in the Cowboys locker room, of his disappointment with Leon Lett when Haley's protege was suspended last season for violating the league's drug policy. He takes shots--some soft, some hard--at most everyone with whom he's ever been associated, from 49ers coach George Seifert ("that bitch") to Jimmy Johnson ("that motherfucker's face was all pink-red") to Steve Young ("he was such a whiner") to Troy Aikman ("he still has a lot to learn"). Charles Haley, needless to say, is a man with few close friends. Michael Irvin recently said of Haley that he's the only man he knows who could take a $4,000 suit and make it look like it cost $400.
"I have a job to do, OK?" Haley says when asked how it feels to be disliked by some on his own side of the field. "It's about winning, you know what I'm saying? If I gotta yell at a guy, if I gotta motivate him for us to win, then I'm gonna do it, and in the long run, he's going to benefit from me doing it, because he stays on board and his temperament changes. I don't believe God put me on this earth to be everybody's friend. I've been in the league long enough to watch guys who want to be everybody's friend, and a lot of them become Judases--they stab you right in the back."
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