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Old 08-02-2006, 06:17 AM  
oaklandhater oaklandhater is offline
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The Tamba Hawk


The Tamba Hawk: KC's Newest Weapon
By Ronnie Bickel, Huddle Network Featured Blogger

Most adults can reflect upon their childhood and recall many trials and tribulations that have attributed to the status they hold today. And although many people have experienced vast perils, there are very few that equate to those experienced by Kansas City Chiefs rookie defensive end, Tamba Hali.

Tamba Boimah Hali was born November 3, 1983 in Monrovia, Liberia. His father, Henry Hali, brought two boys from a previous relationship into his new family with Tamba Hali's mother, Rachel Kieta. Saah is one year older than Tamba Hali, and another Tamba Hali is eleven years older than his half brother. In the Kissi culture a custom prevails in which the first born boy of a woman is named Saah and the second boy is named Tamba, hence the two Tamba's in one family. To distinguish the two Tamba's, the elder was called Big Tamba, and the younger boy was called Little Tamba. Soon after the birth of Little Tamba, his family moved to a small town called Gbarnga.

In Gbarnga Henry Hali earned a meager $1/week working for the Peace Corps. Seeking a better life and more opportunity for his family, Mr. Hali received tuition assistance from Christian missionaries and received degrees in math and chemistry from Cuttington College just outside Gbarnga. Given the fact that the average salary is Liberia is only $110/year, coupled with a life expectancy of 42 years of age, Mr. Hali was determined to seek opportunity for his family elsewhere. He immigrated to the United States in 1985, leaving behind Rachel Keita and their three children, with another child on the way.

It doesn't take long before Henry Hali finds the American Dream. He lands a position teaching physics and chemistry at a local high school in Teaneck, New Jersey. He is also a part-time professor at Farleigh Dickinson University. Meanwhile, his family resides in Gbarnga. Here, food is scarce, and law enforcement is non-existent, as are schools. Chaos is abundant. Once the president of Liberia dies, there are repeated attempts to overthrow the government. Then, Chester Taylor, the most powerful warlord in all the lands, moves into Gbarnga. His mission...overthrow the government and kill all who stand in his way. And he does. Guns, murder, and indiscriminate bloodshed are more plentiful than food and sanity.

On Christmas Day in 1989, the Civil War in Liberia officially begins. The horror is unimaginable. Dead bodies lie about everywhere in the streets. If one looked at somebody wrong, they'd simply shoot them dead. The Hali's home has electricity for only half the day. They have to bathe in a nearby river, and cook outside because the heat is unbearable. The death toll rises in excess of 300,000. The Hali's have witnessed at first hand, a good deal of them.

At eight years of age, Little Tamba is offered a recluse. Rebel soldiers ask him to join their army. With his enrollment they promise safety, security, reprieve of starvation, his very own gun, and essentially a reason to live. His big brother, Big Tamba, threatens Little Tamba. He tells him if he wants to join, "You'll have to kill me first." The Tambas' mother had enough. She took her family and fled to the countryside to escape this hell. They'd live there for six months at a time, living off the fruits, cassava roots, and the game they hunted, that the countryside provided.

Once things calmed down a bit the Hali's returned to their village. But in 1992 the war escalated to a point that became unbearable. For now, planes would fly overhead targeting the rebels; however, in actuality they'd fire their machine guns and drop their bombs at anything that moved. When the villagers heard the jet engines approaching they'd dive for unsuitable cover in the form of ditches and bushes. Soon Rachel Keita once again had had enough. Again, she took her family into the countryside. After several months, again they returned home. Things did not get better and in 1993 Rachel Keita deems it necessary to leave their home for good. They weren't alone, and before the war is over, in excess of one million Liberians fled their homes. They sought sanctuary along the Ivory Coast, a half day's journey by car.
When they finally reach this somewhat secure destination the Border Patrol won't allow them to enter across the bridge. Big Tamba somehow convinces the guards to allow the women (his mother and little sister, Kumba) to enter. They do so, leaving the three boys behind. After several weeks of the boys living on their own, again, Big Tamba convinces the Border Patrol to allow him and his two little brothers to cross the bridge. Big Tamba promises to return with food for the guards.

Once the family is reunited, Henry Hali flies to the Ivory Coast to see his family for only the second time in eight years. Henry Hali makes every effort to convince the U.S. Embassy to issue his family visas to return to the United States with him. His requests are denied. Refusing to give up, he arranges sanctuary for his family in a monastery in the neighboring country of Ghana. He prays the U.S. Embassy here will have a little more sympathy. His prayers are answered, for in December 1993, the U.S. Embassy grants the four children visas to leave the country. Their mother, and youngest half brother, Joshua aren't as fortunate. Finally, on September 15, 1994, Little Tamba, his little sister, and two big brothers board a plane bound for Newark. They live with their father in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Upon their arrival, the children couldn't read or write a word of English. They had never seen computers or strip malls, nor had they ever heard of the game of football. Little Tamba scuffles with a young boy on his very first day of school after the boy calls him "Kunta Kinte." The children, although now safe from death, were struggling nevertheless. Their father, wanting the best for his children, purchased the popular at home teaching method "Hooked on Phonics." Although this certainly helps their education, it still takes Little Tamba two years before he catches up with his peers. Back in their native land communications are sparse and the children only get to speak to their mother once every six months. After fifteen months in the States, the Hali's get word that their little half brother, Joshua (then five years old), was found dead in the bottom of a well in Ghana.

By the time Little Tamba is in eighth grade (1998) he's already a monstrous 6'0" tall and 160lbs. His hands and feet are twice the size of student his age. Ed Klimeck, one of his teachers, takes the liberty to call a prospective high school football coach, one Dennis Heck, to tell him of his student. Naturally, he's more than interested and wants Little Tamba Hali to play for the school team. Little Tamba, however, has other ideas. He wants to be in the NBA. In fact, he thinks football is stupid. He said, "I looked at the running back and wondered why can't he just run around everybody? Why is that so hard? And what was the point anyway? Everybody rushes to one spot and piles on." In any event they convince him to give it a try. He started out as a defensive lineman, but didn't fare well because he failed to realize he had to memorize the plays. His teammates disliked him because before every snap, he'd ask out loud what it was he was supposed to do.

Sophomore year was different. He began to like and learn the game. He put forth more attitude and effort than any other member of the team. He received his first scholarship offer from Boston College. It was also the first time he became aware that a college education could be acquired free of charge, provided he play football for the school. His high school football coach convinced him to hold off another year before making any decisions as such. By his senior year he was pursued by more than sixty colleges after achieving the All-American status. His father, concerned more about his education than his football accomplishments, pushed him towards a school with a high graduation rate. Tamba Hali finally chose Penn State over Syracuse.

During his early days at Penn State, nothing was much of a constant for him, not even football. He was moved from defensive tackle to defensive end, he switches majors twice, and considers transferring schools several more times than that. He finally settles in junior year, and records fifty one tackles (twelve for a loss) and six sacks. He was also named to the All Big 10 second team. But this year brought about more worries and instilled more determination in him than in any recent years passed. Tamba Hali had received word that his mother and her companions, while doing missionary work in Monrovia (Liberia’s capital), got caught up in gunfire. Her companions were fatally wounded. She managed to escape with a gunshot wound in her knee.

It was at this time that Hali began feverishly working with lawyer Scott Paterno, Head Coach Joe Paterno’s son, in an effort to get his mother to the States. He hasn’t seen her in twelve years, and now more so than ever before, he fears for her safety. During his senior year he builds upon his appeal of great strength, athleticism, versatility, and toughness. His defensive line coach, Larry Johnson Sr. (father of Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson) claims Hali would make a great end in a 4-3 defensive scheme at the pro level. The Kansas City Chiefs believed so, for after Tamba Hali registered sixty two tackles (seventeen for a loss), eleven sacks, and was named an All-American his senior year, they drafted him in the first round (Twentieth overall).

Those that coached him expressed little doubt that he wouldn’t succeed in the NFL. His high school football coach (Dennis Heck) said, “He has a maturity level that I think is a result of what he has been through. What happens with him in the NFL will be gravy. How far he had come, to be here, it blows you away.”

Tamba Hali, now 22 years of age, graduated with a degree in journalism. With the small frame of 6’2”, 270lbs., he does not discount the absurdity of how far he has come. In a New Jersey accent he said, “By the grace of God I am alive. [In Liberia] Sometime, you knew you were going to die. If you did something wrong, death was at hand, because people were all over the place, shooting guns, killing people.” He later said, “I’ve been given a gift. I just want to make sure I don’t blow it.”

The Kansas City Chiefs have already issued him his number 91 from college, and his teammates have given him the nickname “The Tamba Hawk”. He has had a taste of the American Dream, thus affording him to hope and believe in the Hali family dream: To once again be reunited as a whole family. He hopes that with God’s grace, once he’s established himself financially he can bring his mother to the States, where she may witness her son play football for the first time.
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Old 08-02-2006, 06:27 AM   #2
bkkcoh bkkcoh is offline

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Old 08-02-2006, 08:26 AM   #3
MichaelH MichaelH is offline
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A very inspirational story. I really feel he's going to be the defensive lineman the Chiefs have been looking for.
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