CANTON, Ohio - There was never a question of Charles Haley's greatness as a football player. An unprecedented five Super Bowl championships, more than 100 career sacks and a reputation as one of the fiercest pass rushers speak to his athletic brilliance.
On this night, however, Haley showed us just how far he has come as a man.
During his career, Haley suffered from bipolar disorder yet chose not to seek help. He was difficult to get along with, regularly bickering with teammates and coaches. So much so that the 49ers felt the need to trade him because of the locker-room divisiveness. That decision turned out to be a huge mistake by then-49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., because Haley helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships in a four-year span.
Some of his teammates, friends and family members tried to tell him he had a problem. His ex-wife told him as early as 1988 that he was bipolar.
"I walked into the league a 22-year-old man with a 16-year-old inside of me screaming for help, and I would not ask for it," Haley said Saturday night during his enshrinement speech for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserves for his on-field accomplishments.
Off the field, Haley has proved himself a winner, too.
"Today, I take my medicine every day, and I try to inspire others to do the same, and that's because I finally listened," Haley said.
The former defensive end spoke passionately Friday about his desire to help others. Sometimes he reaches those younger players, many of them in the Cowboys' organization. Sometimes he can't, and it hurts him deeply.
One of those players who still hasn't come to terms with his problems is Aldon Smith, another great pass rusher whose off-the-field issues are threatening his NFL career. Smith was released by the 49ers on Friday after being arrested late Thursday on suspicion of DUI and vandalism after he crashed his car.
"I'm trying to help him, and I'm not done yet," Haley said of Smith. "If he will learn, I will be there to help him through it. That's what we all have to do.
"The Hall of Famers talk about this fraternity, and this fraternity needs to turn from the inside out to help these young guys, because they have no clue . . . We can go out and impact these young guys."
Haley is a living example of what a man can do when he gets help for his problems.
His Hall of Fame speech was a mix of heartfelt emotion and raucous humor. He thanked DeBartolo and shared a story about when the owner invited him to play golf at Pebble Beach.
Haley had never played before, and he wasn't versed in the etiquette. For one thing, he kept driving the golf cart onto the greens. A golfer behind him grew angry and told him to knock it off.
"I said, 'If this guy comes and opens his mouth again, I'm going to knock him out,' " Haley said. "So I started to turn around, and Eddie said, 'Hey, you can't drive up on the green.' I said, 'All this . . . is green?' "
Haley thanked many of his teammates, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, as well as his coaches. He also thanked Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who took him on a memorable ride when Haley first arrived in Dallas.
"It was a five-minute ride to the hotel, but it took an hour and a half," Haley said. "I know everything [Jones] has done in his whole life."
Haley paid special tribute to Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh of the 49ers.
"Two days before he died, he called me still asking, 'What can I do to help you?' " Haley said. "I will always love him with all my heart."
A lot of emotion from an emotional player. And a willingness to spread the message to others dealing with mental illness.
Well done, sir.