By Mike Sando
What started as a question about Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate Charles Haley turned into a conversation that dovetailed with the Super Bowl-week piece on what became of the flagship San Francisco 49ers.
Basically, I had just finished speaking with Steve Young for a series on NFC West quarterbacks when I decided to ask him about Haley, his former teammate and a terrific pass-rusher. Haley played for the 49ers from 1986-91 before spending five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He closed his career with two years in San Francisco. Haley's teams won five Super Bowls.
Young's answer was something I wanted to pass along now that I've had a chance to review some notes:
"(Haley) was the tipping point in my mind for a number of Super Bowls. We let him go after the '91 season and in '92 and '93, we lost against him. I'm not saying that was all it was, but that was a significant shift for a guy wreaking havoc for us and then wreaking havoc on us. It's a painful reminder of some of the mistakes we made.
"There are two things in the '90s that cost us. That was one, and letting Ricky Watters go was two. We suffered running the football and having a threat out of the backfield for the second half of the '90s, where we got to championship games, we got deep in the playoffs every year and I think it really hurt us.
"Ricky was a very good player. People did not appreciate him as much as they should have. We won the Super Bowl (after the 1994 season) and whenever you win the Super Bowl, you get too smart for yourself. 'Oh, we don't really need him.' Well, you know what? We do. You say, 'We'll just plug some guys in and we'll be fine.' Big mistake."
That last thought from Young stands out. We've seen other teams pay for letting key players get away following Super Bowl appearances, including when Seattle did not use the franchise tag for guard Steve Hutchinson. The Arizona Cardinals also expected to maintain recent successes better amid personnel losses.