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Hall Runs Circles Around Broncos

His spectacular 93-yard punt return for a touchdown leads Kansas City to a 24-23 victory.

October 06, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dante Hall fielded the Denver punt at the Kansas City seven, jab-stepped to his left, darted to his right, and retreated to the five, the three, the two ...

"We were all screaming, 'Not that way! Not that way!' " Chief receiver Johnnie Morton said.

Even the NFL's most explosive returner was a little worried.

"The first part was not smart at all," Hall admitted with a smile. "I just got dumber and dumber and dumber."

Suddenly, he left everyone dumbstruck. He circled around to his left, found a crease in the Bronco coverage and broke free for a 93-yard touchdown with eight minutes 20 seconds remaining, leading Kansas City to a 24-23 victory Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

What started so wrong, ended unbelievably right for the Chiefs, who are 5-0 for the first time in the 44-year history of the franchise.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a better punt return than that one," Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil said. "I said to myself, 'Oh, Dante, don't go backwards!' "

In the end, it was a major step in the right direction for the Chiefs, who claimed a one-game lead over Denver (4-1) for first place in the AFC West. Hall has returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in an NFL-record four consecutive games and already shares the single-season record with seven other players.

The magnificent seven Sunday were the seven tackles he eluded on his way to the end zone.

"It looked like everybody got wadded up and fell over each other," Bronco Coach Mike Shanahan said.

In the week leading up to the game, the Broncos weren't falling all over themselves complimenting Hall, a former fifth-round pick and NFL Europe player who has seven returns for touchdowns in the last 10 games. Denver special-teamer Chris Cole, who played with Hall at Texas A&M, told reporters last week that he and his teammates were up to the task of shutting him down.

"He's very talented and everybody knows him," Cole said last week. "But we have all the talent in the world to go down there and give up nothing."

How poetic, then, that Cole twice blew chances to tackle Hall on the touchdown. He will be reminded of that this week -- unless he chooses to turn off his cell phone.

"I'm going to call him every day [this] week and let him have it," said Hall, who had an Internet printout of Cole's quotes taped in his locker with the juiciest ones highlighted in pink. "I try not to talk trash during the week and just let our actions play, but now that the game is over I'm going to blow his phone up every day."

He might want to wait a few days, at least until the Broncos regain their hearing. Hall's touchdown created such a roar from the red-clad crowd of 78,903 that even Chief players were tempted to cover their ears.

"On the first one it was loud," said fullback Omar Easy, a blocker on each of Hall's seven returns for touchdowns. "The second time, it was even louder. On the last one, I couldn't imagine any place on Earth being that loud."

There were some quiet moments in the first quarter when Bronco receiver Rod Smith took a handoff on an end around and tossed a pass down the middle to Clinton Portis, who turned it into a 72-yard gain that set up a touchdown. Early in the third quarter Portis struck again, breaking free for a 65-yard touchdown run, the highlight of his 141-yard rushing day.

Denver's Jake Plummer completed 20 of 38 passes for 221 yards with a touchdown and -- for the fourth consecutive game -- no interceptions.

The Broncos, who rolled up 469 yards of offense to Kansas City's 261, didn't trail until Hall's touchdown and benefited from some good fortune, losing only one of four fumbles.

"It seemed like every time that ball popped out, one of their guys was right there and it popped right into their hands," safety Jerome Woods said. "I was like, 'Dang, can we get a break?' "

Kansas City's offense was sporadic at best, converting on three of 13 third downs and failing to take full advantage of great field position provided by Chief special teams.

"We're not completely satisfied by where we are as an offense," said quarterback Trent Green, who threw for two touchdowns and corkscrewed more than his share of passes into the grass. "Those things will continue to come, and it's better to be winning and striving to improve than being in the loss column."

Winning cures all. That was clearly the attitude of the Chiefs as they made their way up the locker room tunnel laughing and slapping palms.

"Have a nice flight home!" shouted defensive end Eric Hicks, just in case any Broncos were in earshot.

Priest Holmes seemed pleased after his 97-yard rushing day, even though he fumbled for the second time in two seasons and had an apparent touchdown pass overturned when instant replay showed Eddie Kennison had a foot out of bounds.

The man walking on air was the 5-foot-8 Hall, who meandered up the tunnel with his 2-year-old son on his hip. Team officials popped open doors for him and hurried him along into the locker room, where his teammates were waiting.

They have come to realize that, although Hall might not always choose a direct route, he always winds up in the right place.

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