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ON THE NFL

Cardinals' Todd Haley is steeped in the Steelers

The offensive coordinator is the son of famed player personnel chief for Pittsburgh and worked summers at the team's training facility. Now he will be facing the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

January 20, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

TEMPE, ARIZ. — After four quarters of calling plays Sunday in the biggest football game of his life, Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley made his most meaningful call of the day.

He speed-dialed his dad.

"I always call him when I'm driving in, and I always call him right after," the 41-year-old Haley said Monday, a day after the Cardinals beat Philadelphia to secure a spot in their first Super Bowl. "He just gives me his synopsis of it. He's just a great football person. He's not a quick-answer guy that's flashy, but what he says always has meaning."

Dick Haley isn't just a proud father or an informed observer. He's a lifelong player-personnel man, as respected within NFL circles as he is anonymous outside of them. He helped pour the foundation of the great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s, serving as director of player personnel from 1971 to 1991 and stocking the shelves with players who would win four Super Bowls.

"You can't talk about the NFL without talking about those teams," Todd Haley said. "And to have your father directly related with those . . . that's what's so ironic now. I get to my first Super Bowl and of all teams it could be against, it's against the Steelers. It's just unbelievable."

Of all the connections between the Cardinals and Steelers -- at least 16 Cardinals players and coaches have ties to the Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh, or simply the city -- Todd Haley's roots run the deepest.

As a kid, he used to sit for hours in the dark with his father watching game film in the spare bedroom of their Pittsburgh home. An eight-millimeter projector splashed the grainy footage on a blank wall.

"I can distinctly remember him bringing back tape of Lynn Swann and saying, 'Boy, if we could get this guy, he'd be something else,' " the son said. "A lot of hours spent in there."

That time together paid off for both son and father.

"I always thought he had an aptitude for it," Dick Haley said by phone from his home in Sanford, Fla. "He'd tell me things I wouldn't even think about. He had an eye."

Few talent evaluators have the eye of the elder Haley, who in 1974 drafted four future football Hall of Famers in linebacker Jack Lambert, center Mike Webster, and wide receivers Swann and John Stallworth. That's the scouting equivalent of four consecutive grand slams.

Dick Haley, the son of a steel worker, played six seasons as an NFL defensive back, then used that expertise over the next five years with a scouting service. The Steelers hired him in 1971 to work with coach Chuck Noll and help turn their losing franchise into a winner.

Over the next decade, his son would work summers at the Steelers' training camp in Latrobe, Pa., lugging players' laundry and washing their cars, and later spent game days on the sideline as a ball boy. That made him the envy of all his friends.

"Just to grow up, and the fact that I got to be on the field, and I'd come in to school and everybody was at the Steeler games," he said. "That's what the whole week was about, in season, was the Steelers. And to do the laundry of the Joe Greenes, and the Jack Lamberts, and the Lynn Swanns just was unbelievable."

The experience might have been unbelievable, but the winning was routine. Dick Haley won four rings with the Steelers, his last coming at the end of the 1979 season. After Pittsburgh, he was player personnel director with the New York Jets from 1992 to 2007, working closely for many years with Bill Parcells.

"Being a young kid, you just thought that you went to the Super Bowl every other year," Todd Haley said. "What's given me such a great appreciation is that 1979 was that last one (not counting Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory in 2005), and my father continued to work for 30 more years in the NFL and has never been back.

"That's what I've gained from it. Just how hard it is to get here."

As it is, both father and son are savoring the moment -- peculiar as it is that they're both now pulling against the Steelers in a Super Bowl.

"We have our fingers crossed that he can beat Pittsburgh," Dick Haley said. "I've had to say that a few times over the years, and now more than ever."

Haley said he and his wife "are both so impressed with the way he's handled himself. This is the biggest stage in the world, or close to it, and he's really making his mother and me proud."

It hasn't been an entirely smooth ride. Television cameras caught Haley in a heat-of-the-moment yelling match in Sunday's game with receiver Anquan Boldin.

"That," Dick Haley said with a laugh, "he got from his mother."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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Super Bowl XLIII

ARIZONA CARDINALS VS.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla.

3 p.m. PST, Channel 4

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