One angry man
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."
Yet the book is hardly a football tell-all; it's more like a monologue, one man's often comical view from the top of the pile--somewhere between North Dallas Forty and Private Parts. Haley rants, hollers, pokes fun, gives shit, but All the Rage isn't a detailed history of every game in which he played.
Indeed, only a few games are mentioned at all--Super Bowls and Pro Bowls, games during which he was injured, games he didn't play in at all because his back was too bad. Rather, Haley uses All the Rage to try to separate the football player from the husband, father, son. He writes of being a mama's boy and how he and his wife, Karen, didn't speak during his final days in a Cowboys uniform, how he began drinking to forget the fact that he would never again hit someone for money. "I disappeared on my wife for a while," he says now. "I was very depressed, very hateful."
Despite his retirement, Haley still works with the Cowboys, helping out with the defensive line; he probably spends more time with the team now than during his final days on the roster, when he would often visit team doctors and trainers instead of work out. During the last two years with the team, Haley wouldn't practice at all; he reserved his hits for Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. Haley and coach Barry Switzer also remain close friends, riding their Harleys together. Haley still watches Cowboys games--and only Cowboys games--though he does so alone; that way, he explains, he can study every play and then tell the defensive players the next morning what they're doing wrong. Perhaps one day he will become a coach, but right now he has no plans beyond the next few months.
After retiring, Haley had planned on leaving Dallas for at least a year and returning to his native Virginia. But his 3-year-old daughter's battle with leukemia kept him in Dallas, where she must undergo treatment twice a week while waiting for a bone-marrow transplant. Haley barely visits his daughter when she's in the hospital, though; he says he is too scared of "the smell of death."
There are those who will always maintain that Haley played mean because he is mean; they will insist no one could be that brutal for three hours a week and so gentle the rest of the time. But the new Charles Haley, the one who wears blue knit shirts and crisply pressed blue slacks instead of Cowboys silver-and-white, does a wonderful job of convincing you otherwise. "My wife says I need to work on my people skills," he says, the beginnings of a smile crossing his face.
And perhaps he is: At the end of the interview, he spies a copy of All the Rage lying on a desk. He asks if he can autograph it, which he does, and inside the C of Charles, he draws a little smiley face.
October 4, 1995: Another day in Dallas, another shitstorm. And, as usual, it swirled around me.
A few days earlier, in Washington, we had lost to the Redskins by a score of 27-23. We were five weeks into the new season, and we had lost just once. Not bad. Unless you're the Dallas Cowboys, of course. America's Team is not supposed to lose. Ever.
I had stayed behind after the game to visit friends and family in Virginia. I needed a break. My back--surgically repaired 18 months earlier--was acting up again. I had a groin injury that made every step painful. And my knees ached. In general, I was a mess. I was 31 years old...going on 50. But I kept telling myself I'd be OK. Just take a couple days off, pop a few more Vicodin, get a little treatment later in the week, and I'd be ready to play. That was the cycle for a lot of guys in the NFL, and I accepted it.
What I could not accept were the words I was now hearing; words that tore into my heart. On Monday afternoon, while I was recuperating in Virginia, Barry Switzer had ripped me a new asshole. Barry, you have to understand, is normally a pretty decent guy. If anything, he'd be too soft on players during his first year and a half in Dallas. Apparently, though, in the wake of our first loss of the season, he had decided to adopt a different approach.
Barry and the other coaches had reviewed the game film, the way they always do. They watched the Redskins kick our butts all over RFK Stadium, and they were appropriately offended. Somehow, though, they came to the conclusion that my performance at defensive end deserved special recognition. One of the defensive coaches went to Barry Switzer and said something like, "Charles is doing his own thing again. And he's got other guys on the defense following him." So Barry decided he had to run us through the mud. He met with the team. Then he met with the media. And man, did he give those vultures something to chew on.
That's what I was hearing now, as I sat in the locker room on Wednesday morning. Some of the guys on the D-line were telling me the story. To be honest, I had trouble believing it. But they had saved the newspaper. So I started to read. I was stunned. There was Barry, trashing not only me, but also Tony Tolbert, our other defensive end, and Leon Lett, a defensive tackle. Two of my closest friends. I looked at the words--"embarrassingly poor technique...disregarded their responsibilities...defensive lapses"--and I felt the anger rising in my throat.
If you're going to dog me, goddammit, at least do me the courtesy of talking to me first! My back was killing me. I pulled my damn groin. But you know what? I played anyway! And now you're going to sit there and ridicule me? In the press? I'm not buying any of that.
I have never been afraid of confrontation, on or off the playing field. Football, to me, is about respect. You earn respect through your actions, through your accomplishments, through your talent. I have five Super Bowl rings--more than any other player in the history of the game. I've played in five Pro Bowls. I have sweated blood for every team I've represented, including the Dallas Cowboys. I believed then and I believe now that Barry handled that situation badly. He's the coach, of course, and he has the right to criticize his players. But he should have talked to me first--man to man. What he did was bullshit! He showed no respect for me whatsoever.
And that's precisely what I told him. Like I said, I don't mind confrontation. I don't mind getting in someone's face. Because that is my approach to life, I have a lot of enemies and only a few friends. But I have my pride. My dignity. You do what you have to do, right? And what I had to do that day, immediately, was speak with the coaching staff. I met with Barry. I met with John Blake (now head coach for the University of Oklahoma). And I met with defensive coordinator Dave Campo. I met with every damn one of them, and I told them, "This is not the way it's supposed to be!" You see, I'm not like them. I'm not going to just run to the media and let them read my comments in the newspapers. They'll hear it from me first.
Barry offered a public apology the next day. "I made a mistake," he said. "And I'm man enough to admit it. When we lose, we lose as a team. It's wrong for me to cite individual players."
I was glad to hear him say that, but I was still pissed off. In fact, I was seething. One thing I've learned about myself is that I have a lot of hate in my body, and sometimes it just builds up to where it has to be released. I've tried to use workouts and football and running as a release for my anger, but it doesn't always work. Part of it, I guess, comes from not being able to forgive people. I try to channel my anger and not speak out as much as I used to, not let people get to me. But every so often I just blow up. I don't know...I probably need to go through a stress management program or something.
My parents worked hard; they did their best. It just wasn't enough. That's why I always wanted to help them out--especially my mom. She had a tough life--she deserved better. When she was a little girl she was hurt in a woodstove accident. Her arms were badly burned, and the doctors had to take skin grafts from her legs to repair the damage. That's one of the things I remember most about my mom. She would never wear short pants or short dresses, even in the summertime when the heat was unbearable. Everything was below the knee, because she didn't want anyone to see the scars on her legs. But she never talked about it. She never complained.
When I was a little boy, I used to have dreams about building a big new house for my mother. And it actually happened. That's one of the great things about being a professional athlete--you make enough money to take care of the people you love. My mom had spent her whole life in Gladys, Virginia, and she wouldn't leave the neighborhood, so I bought some land and built a nice brick contemporary right across the street from where I grew up. She loves the house. There's only one problem: My father hasn't moved in. He stays across the street in his old house. See, my dad is a real prideful man. He doesn't like taking any kind of charity. I was just trying to help, of course, but maybe I didn't get enough input from him or something. Maybe I should have thought more about his feelings. I don't know. He tells me one day he's going to move, but he's just not ready yet. My parents still have a great relationship, though; in fact, it seems to be stronger than ever. That's cool. If they're happy, I'm happy.
The thing is, I was lucky. I had a talent that allowed me to get out of Gladys. But if a school doesn't give kids the opportunity to dream, then they'll be stuck living their parents' lives. Forever. That's one of the things that really pisses me off. My old school...they're always asking me to donate stuff, but I'm reluctant. I just can't get through all the hurt. Maybe it's different now, maybe they have better teachers. But I'm dealing with too much baggage. Usually I choose to work through my church back home. I donate to the church and hope they'll support the kids who dream. I believe they will. At the very least, I know that no one at the church is going to say, "Oh, your daddy is just a lawnmower man, you don't need to get a good education." We all need it.
It's hard. The coaches and administrators at William Campbell [High School] send me stuff to autograph--sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. My mom is on me about that. She says there are kids who would appreciate it. She's probably right. But I'll tell you: I don't want to be a role model. If they're looking for role models, they need to look somewhere else, because I'm human. And when somebody hurts me, I'm not receptive about giving back. People say, "You made it! Be happy! Now just shut up...and give!" It's not that simple. I'm not made that way.
After graduating from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1986, Haley was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 1986 draft. San Francisco was at the peak of its powers under coach Bill Walsh, having won the Super Bowl in 1985.
Having joined a championship team, Haley didn't expect to get too much playing time in his rookie year. But he ended up being the team leader in sacks in both 1986 and 1987. By the 1988 season, Walsh had moved Haley to a starting position.
The 49ers would go on to win the Super Bowl that year with Joe Montana as quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals. But right after the Super Bowl, Walsh--for whom Haley had "a ton of respect"--announced his retirement. The end of the season found Haley wondering "what poor sucker was going to have to fill Bill Walsh's shoes."
The answer was 49ers defensive coordinator George Seifert.
To be perfectly honest, I thought he was one of the best defensive coordinators I'd ever been around. He knew his shit. But he had a lousy personality. He just didn't know how to communicate with people--especially black people. I first discovered this in my rookie year, when we did a charity event at Great America, a theme park located near the 49ers' training facility. At one point he was standing with his family, and he said, "Charles, I want to introduce you to my wife." So I walked over, put out my hand, and Seifert said, "Honey, this is Charles Haley. You know what? I can't believe it. He didn't make a single mistake in practice today! Isn't that something?"
I was furious. I'd been working my ass off in practice, studying film every day, memorizing the playbook, and he was acting like I was some kind of idiot. To me, he might as well have said, I can't believe a black guy could play like that, because you know how stupid those black players are. They always make mistakes. I don't know if that comment reflected the way he really felt, but I saw things over the next few years that led me to believe it probably did. It was open to interpretation, and I know how I interpreted it at the time. But I was a rookie, so I just put it in the back of my mind. I filed it away in a little compartment marked Asshole! I didn't smile, I didn't frown, I didn't say anything. But I never forgot it.
To the casual observer, it probably looked like the 49ers made a smooth transition from Bill Walsh to George Seifert in 1989. After all, we kicked ass all year: 14-2 in the regular season, two easy victories in the NFC playoffs. In January, there we were again, back in the Super Bowl, and this time it wasn't even a contest. We hammered the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the most lopsided Super Bowl ever played. I had another good season personally, too: started every game, led the team in sacks...even scored my first touchdown.
But you know what? It wasn't nearly as satisfying as the previous season. Yeah, we kept on winning, but it was all Bill's stuff that allowed us to win. It was Bill's team, Bill's system, and it would take a couple years for Seifert to fuck it up completely. He did enough wrong that year to make it pretty miserable, though. Practices got longer and more disorganized. There was less communication between players and coaches. George's main problem was that he wanted to prove to everyone that he was just as smart as Bill, that he could be a guru, too...
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 bullshit is that?
Dr. Edwards was supposed to help the 49ers achieve racial harmony. If a problem came up, he was asked to deal with it. For example, let's say some guys are talking about interracial marriage. That kind of stuff happens in a locker room. You know, we bust each other's balls all the time. If a black guy was going to marry a white girl, we might say, "Damn, man, why you want to do that? You have any idea how hard it's gonna be?" Dr. Edwards would hear something like that and walk over and kind of whisper in your ear: "Come on now, we don't need to be talking like that." Well, yeah, we do need to be talking like that. Because at least if we're talking, maybe we're educating each other a little bit. And anyway, this was stuff that was coming from within--it was locker room stuff; it was team stuff. Edwards was an outsider...
Edwards kept hanging around, trying to talk to me. I swear, there were times when it seemed like he was brought in specifically to tame me. But he never did.
Seifert tried to work some other nonsense on me, too. I found out later--after I left the team--that he had told Tim Harris to start a fight with me, to make me look bad. The 49ers brought in Tim in '91. He was a good football player...and a big talker, just like me. So we'd talk shit to each other all the time--on the field, in the locker room. Next thing I know, the newspapers were printing stories about the 49ers shopping me around. Supposedly, there was this big battle between me and Tim; he was going to take my starting job and I was so angry about it that I was becoming a distraction to the team.
What the newspapers didn't know was that Tim and I were pretty good friends...There was one incident involving me and Tim that was wildly misinterpreted. It happened during my last week with the 49ers, when I was about ready to kill George Seifert. I was drinking at a Bennigan's across the street from the 49ers practice facility, and after a while I got it into my head that I wanted to confront that motherfucker. So I went looking for him. By the time I got to Seifert's office, though, he was gone. I walked out into the parking lot and realized that I had to take a piss. But I didn't want to go back inside to use the bathroom. So I took a leak on the ground next to my car. Unfortunately, I was parked right next to Tim Harris' car. And Tim walked out just as I was doing my business.
"Hey, you better not pee on my car, man."
"Don't worry about it."
Tim knew I was drunk and he was just messing around with me. Unfortunately, a security guard heard Tim talking to me and got it into his head that we were having some kind of a fight...and that I was really pissing on the man's car. Pretty soon the newspapers got to the security guard and it became a huge fucking story. And it was all wrong! A few years later, at a retirement banquet for Joe Montana, Tim told me about Seifert encouraging him to start a fight with me. Didn't work, though. Fucking Seifert...the man didn't even know his own players. Me and Tim used to close bars, man. When I get to California, we still go out and kick it. You think he was going to take a pop at me? The only thing we ever argued about was who was going to have the most sacks.
The 49ers did a lot of things like that my last couple years. They tried to get at me. But they couldn't. I wouldn't let them. Before the start of the '91 season Seifert was calling me into his office every day, giving me a lecture. Every fucking day, man! I had to go in there and listen to him tell me what I should talk about and what I shouldn't talk about; how to talk to coaches, teammates, the media. Here I was, fresh off my best season as a pro--NFC Defensive Player of the Year!--and they were treating me like dirt. I was like, God damn! When Bill was here he didn't have any trouble with me. All of a sudden I'm the biggest problem on this team? How the hell did that happen?
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-ass football player and you can't tell me anything.
I tried, though. Man, did I try. When the game ended those motherfuckers 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 shit. 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 fucking 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.
Most of the problems I've had in my professional career stem from the fact that I don't just bow to authority. I believe in doing things my own way. The NFL is a rigid place. I'm not a real rigid guy. I will not blindly follow someone I do not respect, even if that person determines my playing time or signs my paycheck...I was a rebel, no question about it. And George Seifert didn't want any rebels on his team, no matter how well they could play.
I spent most of the training camp [in summer '92] waiting for the ax to fall. They weren't going to cut me, of course--that would have been stupid. But the situation was pretty much unmanageable. I wanted out and they wanted me out...
Just a week before the season was to begin, I got a call from Bill McPherson, the defensive coordinator. Bill said that George was very upset, that he'd never had a player talk to him the way I had, and that he wasn't going to put up with it any longer. He and the front office people...were discussing trade options. But Coach Mac wanted me to stay, so he asked me to go to Seifert's office and talk to him. I think he wanted me to apologize, try to smooth things over. There was no way that was going to happen, but I said I'd stop by.
I went up to Seifert's office the next morning. That bitch was so nervous it was almost comical. He kept moving around, sitting in every chair in the room, twitching, stuttering. I barely talked at all. I was torn between leaving peacefully and breaking my foot off in his ass. I decided to listen, because there was a time when I had a ton of respect for the man.
"You're a hell of a football player, Charles," he said. "But some of the things that have happened...we just can't have it anymore. We can't have you bad-mouthing players and coaches. So we're trying to work a deal for you."
A few hours later they told me I had been traded to the Cowboys. I was a bargain, as it turned out. The 49ers were so eager to get rid of me that they demanded nothing more than a pair of draft picks. I walked out of camp that day feeling almost tranquil.
Despite the way his 49ers days ended, Haley has tremendous respect for some of his former teammates. Others are not remembered so fondly.
Unfortunately, the 49ers underestimated Joe Montana. They didn't think he'd be around as long as he was. I guess that's understandable--Joe had a lot of injuries, and by the time we won the Super Bowl after the '88 season, he was already 32 years old. But Joe was tough, as tough as any football player I've ever known. When the 49ers brought in Steve Young in 1987, Joe became more determined than ever to keep playing...
I understand what Steve was going through. He'd been the man wherever he was. He'd always been the star. And all of a sudden, he was standing on the sidelines, charting plays. Maybe he felt the frustration of being lied to...or misled...or whatever. But that's the way it goes. You have to earn your playing time. You don't bad-mouth the guy in front of you--especially when that guy is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. But that's what Steve did. He was always moping around the locker room, bad-mouthing Joe, stabbing him in the back. I never appreciated that at all, and neither did anyone else. The last couple years I was there the press tried to make it seem like there was a quarterback controversy: half the guys supporting Joe and half supporting Steve. But it wasn't like that at all. Everybody backed Joe. Even when his body tried to stop him from playing, Joe would go out there. He was a warrior, man, and everybody respected him for that. He had a good heart, too. He'd help anybody...even the guy who was trying to take his job.
Steve couldn't see any of that. He was such a whiner.
When Haley joined the Cowboys in late August, 1992, he was shocked to find Jerry Jones himself meet him at the airport. He found a kindred spirit--a man who just wanted to win.
I sensed right away that Jerry felt the same way. He seemed to be a straight shooter. We took a long ride back to the hotel, and he kept reassuring me the whole way that this trade would work out for the best.
"You're the missing piece, Charles," he said. "I've heard all the stories, all the accusations, and I'm not concerned. You're gonna be one of my guys."
I found it easy to talk to Jerry. I told him that I understood I was coming in under awkward circumstances. "All I want is a chance," I said. "Treat me like a man, respect me as an athlete. That's all I ask. Just treat me fairly."
Jerry smiled. "No problem."
That whole first year with Barry was like a learning experience. The first time I met him he was very friendly. He smiled a lot, shook my hand, talked about how thrilled he was to be the coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He was real upbeat. He told me if I ever wanted to know anything about him, I should just read his book. I wanted to be careful, but I sensed that he was a player's coach, someone you could mess with a little, so I decided to bust his balls.
"Hey, you want me to read your damn book," I said, "You better give me a copy."
Barry started laughing--he's got this big, deep, good-old-boy howl, and when he starts, he just fills a room. Right away I thought, "This might be kind of fun."
The next day Barry gave me an autographed copy of Bootlegger's Boy, his autobiography. So I read it right away. Man, I'll tell you...it was pretty fucking deep. Barry's been through hell in his life, watching both his mother and father die. I don't know how you handle something like that.
I devoured the book, and I learned a lot about Barry. He grew up poor, in a black neighborhood. He knew tragedy, heartache, adversity. Before I ever played a game for Barry, Bootlegger's Boy made me realize that he's more than just a football coach; he's a good man. He cares about more than just winning and losing. He cares about the individual. Barry's life is a rags-to-riches story. He's got a little halo over his head or something; somebody's watching out for him.
The thing is, the money and the fame and all that? It hasn't affected him. Barry is one of those guys who can relate to his players--black and white. He doesn't have to put on airs just to satisfy one group or another. He knows exactly how to work with everyone. After reading Barry's book and then seeing him with his family--he was always running off to watch his son play football, and his daughter was always hanging around camp--I couldn't help but like him. I wanted to play for him.
I wanted to help him win.
Barry had been out of football for a while; in fact, he hadn't coached since 1988, his last year at Oklahoma. So it wasn't like he had a ready staff to bring to the Cowboys. Instead, he just kept Jimmy's assistants and tried to let them do their jobs. Other than Barry, there weren't a lot of new faces around training camp, but things were definitely not the same. Everything about that year was different. Barry was much more laid-back than Jimmy [Johnson], and his camp was a lot less physical. There wasn't the grind that you usually hear about. Barry was always walking around, joking and stuff. He didn't hold our feet to the fire. It was a big adjustment for some people. A lot of guys were used to having Jimmy ride them all the time. All of a sudden Barry was in there, trying to treat them like adults instead of children, expecting them to work hard simply because they were getting paid to work hard.
This was Barry's first experience working with professional athletes, and I think he expected them to behave like professionals. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work like that. Some people need a kick in the ass to get motivated; some people don't. That goes for the assistant coaches, too. Barry was hands-off. He didn't assert himself right away; he let the assistant coaches do most of the work.
We were all trying to change gears at the same time; it was bound to get a little rough. For some reason, though, a lot of people--coaches, players, fans, the media--thought it would be a smooth transition. They figured, Barry Switzer's coming in as the new coach, but he's got most of the same players and assistants. All he has to do is leave the system in place and the Cowboys will win another Super Bowl. But it didn't work that way. You see, Barry had a lot of knowledge about the game, a lot of wisdom and experience. And for some reason, he was reluctant to share it. At least for a while. He's a great guy and a great coach, but he's not a disciplinarian. He doesn't believe in jumping on guys, cussing them out, and he took heat for that. There were a couple times that first year when I even got mad at Barry, because we'd lose a close game and afterward Barry would come into the locker room and say, "God damn, that was exciting!" Then he'd walk around with tears in his eyes, hugging guys, shouting, "I love this game and I love all you fuckers!"
That took some getting used to, because a lot of people think it's some kind of submission to behave that way. I'll admit that it made me uncomfortable at first, and that there have been times when Barry and I have gone around a little bit. But I'll tell you, if I had to choose somebody to get on my back--if I had to choose between Barry Switzer and most of the other coaches I've had--I'd choose Barry, because he's a real human being. I respect him.
I started taking Vicodin when I first hurt my back. After a few months I wasn't getting much relief from the usual dosage. They'd tell me, "Take two every four hours." So guess what? I took four every two hours. Then I started going to pain management and I got it under control. I didn't have to take Vicodin very often during the week. On game day, though, I'd take two to four Vicodin, plus a couple Percodan. That would cut the pain a little, allow me to get through the day. The only problem was, I couldn't go to sleep afterward. I'd be wired. Early in the 1996 season I hurt my back so bad that I took two Percodan before going to bed, in addition to the Percodan and Vicodin I had taken before the game. Thirty minutes later my back was still killing me, so I took two more. An hour later I was sitting up in bed, sweating like a pig, with my heart racing, practically jumping out of my chest. I started to panic.
"I think I'm having a heart attack!" I yelled to my wife.
Karen jumped up, scared to death. "What did you take?! How much?!"
When I told her, she wanted to call an ambulance. But I knew that was bad news. I could just imagine the scene: EMTs pulling up in front of the house, sirens blaring, lights flashing; me being carried out on a stretcher. My picture would be on the front page of The Dallas Morning News the next morning, my mouth hanging open, tubes sticking out of my arms, my wife and kids crying. And above the photo, some sick headline:
Drug Overdose KO's Cowboy!
No, thank you.
I tried to relax, get it under control. After a while, my heart stopped pounding. I stopped sweating. The anxiety went away.
I looked at Karen and smiled.
"If that happens again, and I die...don't tell anyone what happened. Just drag my sorry ass out in the street and run over me a couple times."
All the Rage: The Life of an NFL Renegade by Charles Haley with Joe Layden. Copyright 1997 by Charles Haley. Reprinted by permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing.
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