Haley's Hall of Fame nod was overdue

Charles Haley won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys and was a central component of every opposing offensive coordinator's game plan during his time in Dallas. USA TODAY Sports

IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys acquired defensive end Charles Haley prior to the 1992 season, they received more than a stud pass-rusher.

The Cowboys added a player with a ferocious mentality, a ruthless competitor who brought it play after play after play.

Haley's spirit infected the rest of the Cowboys' defense, which didn't have a star to feed off the way the offense did with Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.

Finally, after a six-year wait, we can refer to Haley as a Hall of Famer, just as we can Smith, Aikman, Irvin, Larry Allen and Deion Sanders from the Cowboys' glory days of the 1990s.

It's about time. Frankly, it's way past time.

Haley was a beast on five Super Bowl-winning teams. No other player has five championship rings. He more than earned the right to be granted football immortality with a bronze bust in those hallowed halls in Canton, Ohio.

What made Haley special was he contributed significantly to every championship team he played on in San Francisco and Dallas.

Haley had 11.5 sacks on the 49ers' 1988 title team and 10.5 the next season, when they won it again.

After contemplating retirement and fighting through serious back issues, Haley had 10.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 1995, when they won their third Super Bowl in four seasons. He had six sacks in 1992, when the Cowboys won the first Super Bowl of the Jerry Jones era, and four in 1993, when they repeated.

But this is one time statistics don't tell the entire tale.

Haley gave those Cowboys defenses swag, and he created so much pressure that quarterbacks were never comfortable when he came off the edge. He was the epicenter of every opposing offensive coordinator's game plan.

Haley finished his career with 100.5 sacks because he had a tremendous first step, an initial burst that often allowed him to beat tackles off the snap.

Like most great pass-rushers, he had the ability to dip his shoulder as he turned the corner, which meant the tackle had little space to block him. Then Haley would pop up without losing a step and smash the quarterback.

When he didn't win at the snap, Haley had a variety of hand techniques and moves that allowed him to consistently win one-on-one matchups. He was as much a student of the game as he was an athlete.

The more attention foes focused on Haley, the easier it became for his fellow defensive linemen to impact a game. Because Haley was constantly double-teamed, Jim Jeffcoat, Tony Tolbert and Leon Lett could provide pressure off the edge or to the inside. If, for some reason, that didn't occur, the pass protection was certainly going to be turned Haley's way again.

When Haley arrived in Dallas, his defensive teammates immediately followed him. After all, the former fourth-round pick out of James Madison already had two Super Bowl rings from his six seasons in San Francisco.

No one has ever questioned Haley's impact on the Cowboys -- not Jones or coach Jimmy Johnson, and certainly none of his teammates.

In a lot of ways, that's amazing, because Haley played only five seasons with the Cowboys before his bad back and acerbic personality drove him from the team.

"Charles was the difference-maker for us," Jones said Saturday in a Cowboys release. "He put the 1990s Cowboys over the top. He brought a personal spirit and a competitive drive to our organization that changed the course of Cowboys history.

"Intelligence, toughness, will and determination are what Charles means to me. He was a great pass-rusher who could stop the run. He was a guy that teams had to game plan for. He was a defensive playmaker and a game-changer, a complete player, a great teammate who demanded and expected excellence from himself and the players around him."

Haley played on 10 division champions, and during the best stretch of his career, he participated in the NFC Championship game six times in seven seasons.

Just so you know, he owns the Super Bowl record for sacks with 4.5.

Haley played in just 63 games and had only 34 sacks for the Cowboys, but Jones still put him in the club's Ring of Honor in 2011.

Understand, the Ring of Honor has a one-man committee, and Jones is persnickety about who gets a nod. Fantastic players such as Harvey Martin and Darren Woodson aren't in it, though they should be. That tells you all you need to know about Haley's importance to the Cowboys' championship reign: It wouldn't have happened without him on the roster.

Now, Haley has a roster spot for life on the greatest football team ever assembled.

He seemed pleased with his new squad.

"Individual awards have never been one of the things I believed in. I believed in team, but God, I have a new team, all the guys in the Hall of Fame," said Haley, who was in his 11th year of eligibility. "I'm just very, very, very happy."