Charles Haley knows a little about high-level football.
One of the greatest edge rushers of his generation, the small-school prospect out of James Madison morphed into a five-time Super Bowl winner and was immortalized as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
Along with his gold jacket, Haley had also been honored by the two of the winningest franchises in NFL history as a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor and the San Francisco 49ers’ Hall of Fame.
In other words, the resume is pretty good, so Haley is uniquely qualified when it comes to spotting rare talent. And the now 53-year-old thinks he saw something special when watching Dak Prescott in 2016.
So much so that Haley compared the now second-year Cowboys starter with the one guy on the short list of everyone’s G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) conversation at the position, former Niners’ superstar Joe Montana.
“You know what? Dak reminds me of Joe,” Haley told NBC 5 in Dallas. “He’s funny. He’s charismatic. They had something to prove. They had a chip on their shoulder. That meant the more I’m around him, he has so much confidence.”
When you delve into the context of Haley’s words, the comparison makes some sense and doesn’t seem as far-fetched as the headlines generated by it.
Haley was speaking more of the intangible aspect of Montana’s game ,in which “Joe Cool” often seemed unflappable under the most trying of circumstances. The best example of that might have been in Super Bowl XXIII, when San Francisco was down to the Cincinnati Bengals late and needed a signature Montana-led drive for the Lombardi Trophy.
Ever-nonplused Montana turned to teammate Harris Barton during the drive and asked, “There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp … Isn’t that John Candy?”
While fans of his team were biting their nails down to the nubs and perhaps calling the cardiologist to ask how serious a heart skipping a beat is, Montana was having a casual conversation with one of his tackles over the presence of a comedy star at the game.
A few minutes later, Montana drove the spike into the Bengals by capping a remarkable 92-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor.
It might have been that very moment where the legend of “Joe Cool” became more than Snoopy’s alter-ego.
Prescott has a long way to go before he cements a similar legacy, but ironically, during his brilliant rookie season, Prescott’s own unflappable nature may have been cemented at the darkest time — the Cowboys’ one-and-done painful home playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The context of that game was that Aaron Rodgers came into things red-hot after guaranteeing the Packers would run the table to win the NFC North and then blowing out the New York Giants in the wild-card round. Educated fans knew the Cowboys were in trouble, and sure enough, A-Rod showed up in North Texas lighting it up.
The haymaker came in the second quarter, when Rodgers was like a surgeon, carving up Rod Marinelli’s defense and going 6 of 7 on a drive that put the Pack up 21-3. You could almost hear the thud of the Cowboys hitting the canvas.
Except, Prescott got up and kept fighting, eventually leading the Cowboys all the way back with an 18-point fourth quarter. And while the storybook ending was derailed by two 50-plus Mason Crosby field goals in the final two minutes, Prescott ultimately proved the stage wasn’t too big.
Haley didn’t do the young QB any favors by invoking memories of Montana, but you can bet that Prescott isn’t going to play shrinking violet in the shadow of them.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen.
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