Greg Hardy isn’t the first player the Dallas Cowboys have ever brought in with baggage.
“Bags?” Charles Haley mused, “I had suitcases. Full suitcases.”
Haley was one of the NFL’s best pass rushers at the turn of the 1990 decade. He hit double figures in sacks in four of his first six seasons and went to three Pro Bowls. He was San Francisco’s dominant pass rusher on back-to-back Super Bowl champions in 1988-89.
But Haley had issues. Anger issues. There were confrontations with his coaches and teammates. So, for the sake of team chemistry, the 49ers decided to move on without him, giving him away to the Cowboys in 1992 for mere second- and third-round draft picks.
Haley became the final piece of the Super Bowl puzzle for the Dallas Cowboys, who would win three Lombardi Trophies in Haley’s first four seasons.
This summer he’ll be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now the Cowboys are bringing in another talented-but-troubled pass rusher in Hardy. He sat the final 15 games of the 2014 season while dealing with domestic violence charges.
Despite a 15-sack, Pro Bowl season for Carolina in 2013, the Panthers decided to cut him.
Haley said he intends to reach out to Hardy. In fact, he has already tried. Haley was out of town when the Cowboys brought Hardy to Valley Ranch for two days of interviews. When Haley returned, he headed over to Valley Ranch but by then Hardy had gone home.
“He’s a helluva ball player,” Haley said. “But what’s really going on here? Guys like me who are not a part of the organization, when we come to (Hardy) he knows we’re coming (to him) for real. That’s what’s important.”
Haley’s intention is not to glad-hand Hardy.
“I go up there (Valley Ranch) all the time,” Haley said. “The moment I see him, we’ll talk. I do the same thing with everyone there. Dez, Romo, Witten…we sit down, talk and have fun. They know me now. They know I’m a little nuts, and I’ve got to say what I’ve got to say. I’m very direct. I can say some words that might hurt some feelings. They can take it with a grain of salt.”
Haley got help for his issues and he’s going to encourage Hardy to seek help as well.
“When I played with the 49ers, Bill Walsh sent me to counselors,” Haley said. “I had to go every Tuesday my rookie year. I’m not a guy who makes friends easily but that helped me a lot. It helped ease my rage. It helped me to understand that a dumb football player is not going to last in the NFL. It made me become smarter.”
And a better listener.
“When I see guys having issues, I tell them the people I went to (for counseling) and how, now, I’m successful,” Haley said. “It didn’t affect how I played. I could still be aggressive on the field. But I could listen off it. That was my problem. I never listened. I was always aggressive.
“Now, I’m not in a reactional mode any more. I can listen to another opinion and take it. If I knew then what I knew now, some of the altercations with Jimmy (Johnson) and George Seifert wouldn’t have happened.”
Haley has already done his homework on Hardy. The world knows what the Cowboys are getting on the field — a 27-year-old, Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher. Haley believes he can help shape what the Cowboys get in Hardy off the field.
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Haley said. “He wants to show everybody what he has and what he can do. He wants to be judged by what he does on the field. But the only way you can be judged by the things you do on the field is you can’t be doing dumb (expletive) off the field.
“That’s what I tell all these guys. If you want to make money and be successful, you need to dedicate yourself on the field and avoid those situations off the field. Everyone has a phone or a camera that can record or take pictures of whatever you do. You always have to act like you’re in a little fish bowl with everyone looking at you. And you must act accordingly.”
The change of scenery worked for Haley, helping to change him as a person. He believes the same can happen for Hardy.
“He’s going to be fine,” Haley said. “I can’t wait to meet him and I can’t wait to see him play. I hope and pray the Cowboys make the next step in this journey for a Super Bowl. Sometimes bad boys have to come in here and kick some tail.”