View Full Version : POSNANSKI: Dante Hall - Hocus Focus

Fire Me Boy!
07-30-2005, 01:05 AM

RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Dante Hall wants to make magic again. He misses the magic. Last year, the Chiefs thought they were doing the right thing. They had seen Hall do things that blew the mind, so they had to get him on the field more. They had to get him the ball more. They would turn him into an every-down, big-play, unstoppable receiver.

Dante Hall was all for it. There’s nothing cooler than an unstoppable receiver.

Then, he was so drained he found that the old magic was gone.

“It wasn’t that I was tired, exactly,” he says. “I just didn’t have that extra gear.”

Of course, it’s the extra gear that creates magic on a football field. This is why Dante Hall is going back. He doesn’t want to be an every-down receiver. He doesn’t want to be more involved in the offense. He just wants to be his old self.

“Sure I wanted to get the ball more,” he says. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Dante Hall is one of the three or four most exciting players in pro football. This is his mark on the game. He is Gale Sayers and Eric Metcalf and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson blended together. He has nine punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns the last three seasons — easily the most in the NFL. He has returned punts and kicks, caught passes, run reverses and amassed more than 8,000 total yards in his NFL career.

But it is the artistry that makes Dante Hall special. It is the touchdown catch he made against Denver in 2002, the one where he caught the ball, stepped forward, jumped back like James Brown, ran forward, turned quick, and had Broncos players so confused they were crashing into each other like henchmen out of the old Batman TV show.

There was the punt return he had against Denver in 2003, the one Broncos fans still complain about because they felt several Chiefs players clipped on the play. Of course, that return was so magnificent — he zigged and zagged and made every Broncos player miss at least once, often twice — that calling it back would have been a crime against art. It would have been like flagging the Sistine Chapel because Michelangelo didn’t really paint it while lying on his back.

Hall has had so many moments like that, big moves that made players fall as they slipped on banana peels, little moves that made grown men twist ankles. He has had so many that steal your breath, moments that make you shout madly at the television, moments that make you pick up the phone and call friends or family and scream, “Man, did you see that?”

And then, last year, there were no moments. The rabbit wouldn’t come out of the hat. The lady wouldn’t levitate. Dante Hall couldn’t do any magic at all. It was so odd. All training camp, the Chiefs talked about making him more of a weapon. They talked about using him more as an outside receiver. Then, there were injuries, and Hall was suddenly a starting receiver. It was all he wanted.

“I want to help this team any way I can,” he said then. “I want to become a good receiver. The return game will take care of itself.”

The first six games of the year, with the Chiefs struggling, Hall couldn’t manage a kick return longer than 45 yards. He couldn’t manage a catch or run longer than 18 yards. It drove him crazy. In week seven, he managed a 46-yard punt return, which was nice, but he could not do much in week eight.

Hall felt like a cigarette lighter that would not ignite. He kept telling himself and friends that he would break out, he would get his crease, he would do something amazing that would have everyone in the league talking again. Only the games kept going by, and he simply could not burst through. He felt like he was running in mud.

“You know, you can want something so badly,” he says. “I wanted it here (he points to his head) and I wanted it here (he points to his heart). But the legs weren’t willing.”

“I think the toughest part for Dante was not the games, it was the practices,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders says. “When you’re a starting receiver, there are so many more responsibilities, so many things you have to worry about. Now, you’re responsible for blocking assignments and so many other things. We didn’t have a choice because of all the injuries. But I do think it wore him down.”

By the end of the season, the Chiefs tried to take some pressure off of Hall, and he began to look like his old self. He had a weird game against San Diego. He broke free and seemed headed for a sure kickoff return touchdown, and he simply dropped the ball. Later that game, though, he had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Three weeks later against Denver, his favorite opponent, he had a 97-yard return.

But all in all, Hall saw the year as a disappointment. The team struggled, and he wasn’t able to make those stunning plays that turn games around. He talked with Chiefs coaches. And he has come into camp this year with a new role that looks a lot like the old role.

“I think we would like to get him the ball three or four times a game,” Saunders says. “I mean, we can’t just play him three or four plays so that everybody knows what’s coming.

“But I think that’s our goal, play him a few plays, get him the ball three or four times a game where he can make something happen. The thing we have to remember is Dante is first and foremost a return man. He can change a game with one great return. That’s what he does best. We need him to be that kind of weapon for us.”

Hall agrees. He’s almost 27 now and has a nice clear view of himself. He has had an interesting career. Hall was a terrific running back in college. He played in NFL Europe. He battled with J.J. Moses just to make the team. Then, like that, he became a star, a Pro Bowler, he returned kicks for touchdowns four weeks in a row, he appeared on David Letterman. Then the Chiefs wanted him to become a receiver. He wanted it, too.

And now? Now, he just wants to be the old magical Dante.

“I feel good again,” he says. “I feel strong. I’m not trying to be anyone else. I think I can help this team win by doing the stuff that I do.”