Charles Haley answered the knock on the door of his hotel room Saturday afternoon to find David Baker, the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame delivers bad news with a phone call. Haley knew that from the five other times he was a finalist.
“I said, ‘Damn, I’m in. I’m in,’” Haley said. “... He said, ‘Welcome to the Football Hall of Fame,’ and he took that big ol’ hand of his and shook my hand. I didn’t have time to say anything.
“It’s been so long coming, man. So many letdowns that I wouldn’t allow myself to get too excited. It’s been great. It’s one of the best days of my whole life.”
Haley was among the eight-man Class of 2015 announced Saturday night at the NFL Honors show. He was joined by Dallas native Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Junior Seau and Will Shields as well as seniors candidate Mick Tingelhoff and contributors Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
The 46 selectors eliminated Jimmy Johnson — who won two Super Bowls in five years as the Cowboys coach — in a reduction vote from 15 to 10. It was Johnson’s first year as a finalist.
Haley waited 11 years to hear his name called for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It didn’t make it any less sweet, though he swears he didn’t shed a single tear.
“I’m a big boy,” Haley said, “and if I did I’m going to go to the bathroom by myself. I was so emotional, man, that I felt like my legs were going to give out. But I didn’t do that crying stuff. Real men don’t cry. That’s the lie I tell.”
Haley, who played his final game in 1999, still stands as the only player to win five Super Bowl rings. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones contends that his team didn’t sniff its first title until Haley arrived in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
The Cowboys ranked 17th in total defense in 1991, the year before Haley arrived. They added Haley and cornerback Kevin Smith, who started just six games as a first-round rookie, before the 1992 season.
The Cowboys ranked first in total defense in ’92 and won Jones his first of three Lombardi Trophies. In Super Bowl XXVII to end the ’92 season, Haley sacked Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and forced a fumble that Jimmie Jones returned 2 yards for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead.
“Charles was the difference-maker for us,” Jones said. “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.”
Haley’s discussion lasted 23 minutes, 5 seconds, the fifth longest of any of the 18 candidates. But unlike the previous five times Haley made the list of finalists, this time he sailed through the reductions.
Johnson, Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, John Lynch and Don Coryell were the first five eliminated. Tony Dungy, Kurt Warner, Kevin Greene, Orlando Pace and Marvin Harrison were the last five cut in a meeting that lasted 8 hours, 53 minutes.
The Class of 2015 will earn enshrinement Aug. 8.
Haley received hugs from his former teammates — including Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman — after the announcement of his election.
“Everybody thinks he’s this crazy dude, and he is, but he has this crazy heart that he always tries to do everything for all the kids that he’s around,” Irvin said. “Now all the work that he does will also have that bright light of a Hall of Famer doing them. I think it should add to what he’s done. He’s been doing Hall of Fame stuff for a long while. Now he’s getting a jacket to go with the work that he’s been doing, and God blesses that.”
Haley left his mark despite playing in an era with some of the greatest pass-rushers of all time, including Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Haley had 100.5 sacks, earned five Pro Bowls and twice was named All-Pro.
His teams went 153-66, including 19-6 in the postseason. Only once in 12 regular seasons did his team have a losing record. That was in 1999 after he had retired and then unretired.
His teams won 10 division titles, and he played in seven NFC Championship Games. His teams missed the playoffs only twice.
“I’m super excited,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “He deserves it. He had an incredible career. He’s always around still, helping our team out now. I love that guy.”
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760
Class of 2015
Chargers, Dolphins, Patriots
Bills, Panthers, Colts
Raiders, Buccaneers, Packers