Growing up, watching sports on television, the only two athletes I remember being intimidated by were Charles Haley and Charles Oakley. Even in the comfort of my home, those two kind of scared me.
I first spoke to Haley in 2010, and even though it was on the phone, I was immensely nervous. Like as much as any interview I've ever done. By that point, the majority of the stories from his playing days had surfaced and his dislike of the media was well known. We spoke for 20 minutes and he couldn't have been any better. At the end of the call, he even asked me a question about his chances of being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I would see Haley here and there, around Valley Ranch, at training camp, we'd say hi on occasion. He was still intimidating, even with a slight limp, even in his 40s and now his 50s.
Haley should have been a first-ballot inductee into Canton, and every year I would write about the injustice of him not being honored. Not only was he the first to win five Super Bowls, but it's been 20 years now and no one has equaled it. More than any sport, legacies in the NFL are about winning more than numbers. So why wasn't Haley the most obvious of choices?
Finally, in 2015, his time came. A month or so before his induction in late-July, I sat with Haley at Valley Ranch for a little more than hour, talking about his life and career for a lengthy feature story which ran in this magazine and on the team's website. As we were leaving the office where we spoke, I said how I was again nervous about the interview. Charles said, "Why would you be nervous? I'm just a country boy trying to make it in this world."
Then he gave me a big hug. I remember walking down the hallway thinking about how we really don't know people until we know them.
[embeddedad0]I listened to Haley's induction speech, thought he nailed it on every level, humble, thankful, hilarious and honest. Six weeks later I was in Myrtle Beach on a long weekend golf trip. A publisher called me expressing interest in writing a book with Haley. He read my story and happened to be at the induction ceremony and was impressed with the speech. So I called Charles, who loved the idea, telling me, "I think I have a story to tell, a message that could help people."
Over the next few months, usually once a week, I would drive to Haley's house and spend two hours or so interviewing him. As I began writing the book there were also numerous phone calls and text messages. We went over the first draft together, too, for a good three hours.
Some days were better than others. It's incredible and inspiring how Charles has taken control of his demons, his bipolar disorder, his substance abuse. He's for the most part a pretty friendly, approachable guy. There were some stories, though.
One day he was doing a phone interview for The Drew Pearson Show when I arrived and he asked me to put his two huge Dobermans in the backyard. This wasn't the easiest of processes and led to me being knocked down by one in the dirt. They are great dogs, just physically playful. I guess much like Charles.
He was late one day, running some errands, I texted him, You're going to be late for your own funeral, to which he responded, I won't be late for yours later this week.
During one interview he was eating Oreos by the handful, removing them from the package between his thumb and pinkie finger. Finally I said, "Charles calm down, you've had like 30 of them." He stared at me for a moment, called me a few names not fit for print and said, "Besides, they're healthy. I bought them at Whole Foods."
About an hour or so after I dropped off the forewords of the book at his house, he texted me that both Ronnie Lott's and Jerry Jones' words made him cry. In so many ways, Charles never stopped surprising me.
Then I was standing on the sideline at training camp out in Oxnard during the first week of August and a Gatorade bottle hit me in the back of the head. I turned around and there he was, laughing away. The bottle wasn't empty, either.
Indeed, Charles has a story to tell unlike any other and here's hoping everyone checks out our recently released book, Fear No Evil: Tackling Quarterbacks and Demons On My Way to the Hall of Fame.
You can also check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. Follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.*