Chiefs' Hali lets play dictate what people think
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Tamba Hali came tearing off the corner against the Green Bay Packers with such speed and ferocity that the offensive lineman had little choice but to tackle him.
The officials would have been justified in throwing a flag, though one never flew.
Perhaps because the same scene unfolds so regularly.
The Kansas City Chiefs' reluctant superstar is grabbed, pulled, tugged and dragged to the turf on just about every play. Hali is double-teamed, chop-blocked, worked over by rugged offensive linemen who often outweigh him by 50 pounds, but the outside linebacker keeps coming back for more.
Hali still managed three sacks against the Packers, beating up on quarterback Aaron Rodgers throughout a 19-14 upset victory Sunday. At times, it seemed as if he was lining up with running back Ryan Grant and fullback John Kuhn, so quickly was he into the backfield when the ball was snapped.
"Sometimes I look at that guy and he's like the Energizer bunny,'' Chiefs interim coach Romeo Crennel said. "He just keeps going and going and going. And he's going against some big guys.''
It was the third straight game in which Hali has gotten a sack, and the three against Green Bay pushed his season total to 12. He's still six behind Philadelphia Eagles pass rush specialist Jason Babin, the league leader, but the half dozen players in the NFL with more sacks than Hali are rarely subjected to the same kind of punishment by opposing offensive lines.
At one point during Sunday's game, after yet another takedown, Hali simply lay on the turf for a moment. He wasn't hurt, or even banged up. He just needed to catch his breath.
Then he stood up, assumed his spot on the line of scrimmage and got ready to do it again.
"All the time, they don't call some of the things that happen to him on the field,'' Crennel said, "but eventually he wears them down, and to come away with three sacks is pretty good.''
The former Penn State star, who fled war in Liberia as a youngster and in 2006 was sworn in as a United States citizen, is putting out the kind of production that could make him the face of the franchise.
He's coming off a career-best 14 1/2 sacks last season, putting him in the upper echelon at his position alongside James Harrison, Cameron Wake and Terrell Suggs. But he somehow was passed over for the Pro Bowl, perhaps in part due to his low-key approach and reluctance to discuss himself - traits that lend themselves to being a good teammate at the expense of personal glory.
The Chiefs certainly noticed his production, though.
General manager Scott Pioli made it a priority to sign the former first-round draft pick to a long-term deal, and although the NFL lockout put some unnecessary challenges in the way, the two sides still managed to work out a five-year, $60 million contract with $35 million of it guaranteed.
Hali didn't speak to the media when it was announced during training camp, simply showing up on the practice field one day in St. Joseph, Mo. He finally spoke a few days later, one of the rare times he does interviews.
Hali is an amicable guy until the first sign of a tape recorder.
He'll ask you where you grew up, about your family, what you do for fun. He'll talk to you about music - he has an eclectic taste that ranges from classic to rap, and it's often pouring out of the stereo that sits in front of his locker.
Opposing teams wish he was so genial after kickoff.
The same guy who laughs and jokes on the practice field, who almost seems to be goofing around like a school boy during stretching, turns into a relentless pass rusher. He'll go through the left tackle with a series of swim moves, spins, jukes and bull rushes, and then punish the running back or fullback foolish enough to get in his way, his sights set squarely on the quarterback.
He doesn't get there all the time, of course, often because he's been dragged to the ground.
"Tamba Hali comes to work every day, and you notice him out there every game,'' Crennel said, before adding with emphasis: "He gives it everything he has.''
His best performances have coincided with the Chiefs' best games. He had a pair of sacks in a win over Minnesota, two more in a 23-20 overtime victory over San Diego, and another a few weeks ago in a 10-3 road win over Chicago that helped Kansas City snap a four-game losing streak.
His performance against the Packers helped keep alive the Chiefs' season.
If the Broncos lose at Buffalo on Saturday and the Chargers lose one of their last two games, the Chiefs would merely have to win out against Oakland and Denver to reach the playoffs.
In that case, Hali probably will be the first to celebrate with his team.
Even if you don't hear much about it.