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From Zero to Unstoppable

Proud of the road he took, Chiefs' Dante Hall has impressed the best returners in history

October 12, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Dante Hall sees a bit of himself in some of the legendary NFL return men. He can relate to Lem Barney, Vai Sikahema, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and others. Really, though, when Hall thinks of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, he thinks of Montana.

Tony, not Joe.

Hall, who set an NFL record last Sunday by scoring a touchdown on a return in a fourth consecutive game, is infatuated with the Tony Montana character Al Pacino plays in the mob epic "Scarface."

"I look deeper into the message," Hall said. "He had a dream, and he wasn't going to let anyone stop him. That's what I like about the movie. Not all the violence, not him selling drugs, but the fact that he started from rock bottom. I kind of started from rock bottom in this league."

Last Sunday, in Kansas City's 24-23 victory over Denver, Hall became the first player in NFL history to return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in four consecutive games. He scored the winning touchdown against the Broncos with a team-record 93-yard punt return midway through the fourth quarter, a runback that underscored his reputation as one of the league's most dangerous playmakers. He has scored seven touchdowns in 10 games, dating to last season.

He leads the league in punt returns at 21.6 yards a return, and is second in kickoff returns at 32.7.

"He's fantastic," said Johnson, who built the White Shoes legend by scoring on six punt returns in 14 seasons. "To score two weeks in a row is hard. To do it four weeks in a row is unbelievable. If it happens a third and fourth week, somebody's not doing their homework. You know they're stacked against you at that point."

The Green Bay Packers certainly have taken heed of the 5-foot-8, 187-pound Hall. They play host today to the undefeated Chiefs (5-0) and will try to keep the ball out of Hall's hands.

"I think the key thing is, don't punt the football [at all]," Packer Coach Mike Sherman said. "Because he is a weapon. You have to keep your offense moving the chains, and hopefully you don't have to punt. But I know their defense will have something to say about that."

Tampa Bay doesn't play Kansas City this season, so the only way the teams could meet would be in the Super Bowl. If or when the Buccaneers do cross paths with Hall, though, Coach Jon Gruden already has developed a plan.

"If we play him, we're kicking the ball into the stands," said Gruden, hardly cracking a smile. "We're not giving him any chances.... It's not just the four touchdowns, but how about the kind of returns he's made? I mean, incredible. NFL Films should do a full-day production on Dante Hall."

Before he got on his hot streak, Hall, 25, didn't have much to contribute to a highlight reel. He had no returns for touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons and hovered around the league average in punt and kickoff returns. He began to flourish when he played for the Scottish Claymores in 2001, leading NFL Europe in kickoff return yardage and finishing second in punt returns.

"Going into my third year [in the NFL], it was make all or break all," he said. "If I hadn't have performed that third year, I think that probably would have been the end of my career. Because I hadn't really done much my first two years. That was a do-all year."

He was a fifth-round pick by the Chiefs in 2000, a Texas A&M running back who brought some baggage from college. He was kicked off the team in his final season, prompting Chief President Carl Peterson to call R.C. Slocum, the coach at Texas A&M, to ask whether Kansas City would be making a mistake drafting Hall.

"I had to know about this kid," Peterson said. "[Slocum said], 'He only has one problem: He thinks he's the dean of admissions.' "

By that, Slocum meant Hall was parking anywhere and everywhere at the school. He ran up more than $1,500 in campus parking tickets and wound up getting booted off the team. Peterson said the Chiefs could live with that.

"He's a special guy," Peterson said. "He can stop and go and change directions as good as any human being I've ever seen. I'm glad we drafted him."

That's the understatement of the season, of course. Because, without their dynamo returner, the Chiefs couldn't dust off that memorable line uttered by a gun-toting Tony Montana, "Say hello to my little friend."

zzzDante Hall sees a bit of himself in some of the legendary NFL return men. He can relate to Lem Barney, Vai Sikahema, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and others. Really, though, when Hall thinks of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, he thinks of Montana.

Tony, not Joe.

Hall, who set an NFL record last Sunday by scoring a touchdown on a return in a fourth consecutive game, is infatuated with the Tony Montana character Al Pacino plays in the mob epic "Scarface."

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