It didn't take long for me to form my first impression of Charles Haley. Even when he was a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers in 1986, it was obvious that, while he didn't have all the understanding he would need to become a top-tier defensive end, he possessed the deepest desire to succeed. He was one of those rare teammates, one of those rare people you come across in this world, who was willing to work until he couldn't and was willing to maximize his body for the sole objective of winning.
Here's a kid from James Madison University, certainly not a big-time college football program, and he's supposed to replace one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play the game in Fred Dean. It didn't take long, though, to see that Charles would be able to fill those shoes. We were incredibly fortunate to replace one Pro Football Hall of Famer with another That doesn’t happen often.
A lot of guys come and go in the NFL and never grasp the opportunity. They are sitting around right now wondering why their career didn't go like they thought it would. It's because they weren't committed like Charles was. Every day Charles showed up with the knowledge and understanding of what an honor and privilege it is to play football at that level. He invested himself fully. The man would run and run until he could run no more. The man would watch film until there was no film left. He respected what his name stood for.
Charles is always working someone. At this very moment, Charles is working an angle. He's helping someone. He's talking to some store owner about donating a bunch of bread to feed hungry children. He's making calls to find extra computers for inner-city students. He's constantly working the system to help others.
He is a lot smarter than anyone gives him credit for. Sure, as a football player, everyone understood his genius for the game, but I'm talking about off the field. He's James Bond. The man walks into a room and assesses everyone there within minutes. He knows who's scared, who's not, who leads, who needs help, who falters under pressure. He reads people better than anyone. I've mentioned this to him, and he brushes it off, saying when you grow up in a family like his, you have to read people.
I know players who played for Bill Walsh a lot longer than Charles, but he understood the coach after just a few days. That's why they connected so perfectly. There were times when Charles knew some of our assistant coaches better than they knew themselves.
Charles had some issues with coaches -- with authority in general -- but I guarantee you this: every single coach would say, "Give me someone who plays as hard as Haley." Charles was that guy in the fourth quarter still running at first-quarter speed. That motor of his never stopped revving.
Here's what I will never, ever understand: the 49ers changed the weight of the entire league by trading Charles to the Dallas Cowboys. San Francisco would have won three more Super Bowls if it hadn't. Instead, they sent one of the game's premier pass rushers to Dallas on a singular mission of revenge.
They didn't have any perspective. It's like a family member. Sometimes you don't understand why they do what they do, but you still love them. The 49ers didn't understand why winning and teammates mattered so much to Charles. They didn't understand his level of passion. They didn't understand what resides in a man's heart when his sole purpose is to be a champion, to strive each and every day to be the best for his teammates. They didn't understand Charles, so they sent him to Dallas, and he kicked their rear end for the next five years.
Yeah, he went psycho after a loss; he was that angry, he cared that deeply. That doesn't mean he's crazy and that the team can't exist and succeed because of him. But that became the story. Charles is crazy. Tell me this, how can Charles be crazy if he knew the assignments for every single one of his teammates on every single play? Charles was the smartest guy on the field.
I'm not saying Charles was always easy in the locker room. He was cool with me because we were friends. He knew I looked out for him. But this one time, Charles had Jerry Rice in a headlock after practice and he wouldn't let go unless Rice said "uncle." You're talking about two of the all-time competitors. Rice obviously has no chance against Charles, but he's not giving in and he more or less passes out. Charles walks away, and we're all thinking that this really awkward moment is over. Then less than a minute later, Jerry is chasing Charles around the locker room with a fire extinguisher. That was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
Charles couldn't be in a better place right now. It's tough not knowing where to go in life. From high school and college to then the NFL, football was his whole world. There's a little time for family, but for 20 years or so, it's football. Then what? You have to relearn how to live, how to exist and flourish in a new environment. I struggled with this -- a lot of us do -- and Charles definitely did. It's just unfortunate that we have to live our lives out in public.
A lot of that adjustment is by experiment. Charles tried coaching for a few years and realized that wasn't his thing -- at least on a full-time basis. Instead, he decided he wanted to help people, and I couldn't be more proud of him. More than anyone, Charles understands his purpose in this world. Charles is always a phone call away. How can you not love that this tough-guy Hall of Famer who spends every day of his life now trying to help people? What an asset to society he is. Just like on the football field, Charles is giving the kind of effort that less than 1 percent of people give to any endeavor their entire lives.
Charles was a gift to the game of football. The kind of dedication and passion he brought, you just don't see that today. There was no greater honor during my career than calling Charles Haley a teammate. And it will be my honor every day for the remainder of our lives to call him my beloved friend.
-- This foreword to Fear No Evil: Tackling Quarterbacks and Demons on My Way to the Hall of Fame by Charles Haley With Jeff Sullivan is reprinted by permission. Copyright (c) 2016. Published by Triumph Books. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Charles Haley on Twitter @CharlesHaleyHoF. Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter @SullyBaldHead. Follow Ronnie Lott on Twitter @RonnieLottHOF.