With each scintillating, game-turning kick return, the Chiefs' Dante Hall is making a case for MVP honors
The chiefs' Dick Vermeil is not only on one of the hottest coaching streaks of his career—the Chiefs are 5-0 for the first time in their storied 44-year history—but he's also successfully moonlighting in the prophesy business. Six days before his team's AFC West battle of the unbeatens with the Broncos, Vermeil was talking about his amazing return man, Dante Hall.
"Dante's the best I've ever been around," said the 66-year-old Vermeil. "I'm going to tell you this: You'll see a better return for a touchdown than you've seen."
The 5'8" Hall, a 2000 fifth-round draft pick who converted from running back at Texas A&M to wide receiver in the pros, had returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown (none shorter than 73 yards) in an NFL-record three consecutive games and in six of nine games dating to last season. And on Sunday, for the second straight week, a Hall return provided the winning points for the Chiefs. Trailing 23-17 with 8:45 left, Hall took a punt at his own seven-yard line, cut left, stutter-stepped, broke right, got trapped, danced around for a couple of seconds, darted backward and left toward his goal line—returners are never supposed to run backward, especially when they've already broken a cardinal rule by fielding a punt inside their 10—before turning upheld and heading toward the left sideline. Hall raced untouched to the end zone, and when Morten Andersen added the extra point, the Chiefs had a 24-23 win.
Hall's return was all the more amazing when you consider that the Chiefs had set up their special teams unit to try to block the punt, so it was surprising that Hall fielded the ball at all, much less tried to return it. But, he said, "I'm getting in the kind of comfort zone where I think anything is possible on any play. I just tried to stay alive on the play and keep moving. As long as I stayed on my feet, my teammates would find someone to block."
If you had to pick a league MVP five weeks into the season, Hall would be the guy. He has personally put his team over the top in the fourth quarter against two playoff contenders, the Ravens and the Broncos. (In a 10-10 game against Baltimore on Sept 28, Hall returned a kick-off 97 yards for a touchdown.) And after the Chiefs had dug themselves into a 10-0 hole against the Steelers on Sept. 14, Hall returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. Without a doubt, the only return man who's been so electrifying for so long was Gale Sayers, a star for the Bears in the '60s before a knee injury cut short his career after seven years.
Said Broncos linebacker Ian Gold, who twice missed Hall on the game-winning return, "I don't know if I've ever faced an athlete that dominant in Little League, college or the pros."
Romanowski to Retire?
Concussions Slow Romo
Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski doesn't know—or won't say—how many concussions he's had in his 16-year NFL career, but he did tell SI last week that he suffered a concussion or got dizzy and nauseous from hits in his first three games and an exhibition game this season as well as in the Super Bowl last January. The most recent of those incidents, after he got popped by Broncos running back Clinton Portis in the first quarter of the Sept 22 Monday nighter, has Romanowski thinking retirement.
"I have a dull ache in my head," he said in a phone interview from his home in the Bay Area. "Each of these last few incidents, I get hit and then things get very scrambled. I get disoriented. Maybe five, 10,15 seconds. And when I start to try to work out now, those symptoms come back." Last week Romanowski tried to jog at the Raiders' practice facility in Alameda, Calif., but he said he got dizzy and his head started pounding after he took a few steps. "When I went for tests with some concussion specialists in Pittsburgh [in late September], one of the doctors told me it was like he was listening to Merril Hoge, Harry Carson or Steve Young."