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Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali closing on Neil Smith for second most sacks in franchise history

By Dave Skretta


KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ Long before Justin Houston began terrorizing quarterbacks, it was Tamba Hali who was following in the footsteps of the great Kansas City Chiefs pass rushers.

Guys such as Derrick Thomas, Art Still and Neil Smith.

It won’t be long until he’s following just one.

Hali had had two more sacks last weekend against Pittsburgh to give him 82 1/2 for his 10-year career. He needs just four more to match Smith for second-most in franchise history, trailing only the 126 1/2 sacks that Thomas racked up during his Hall of Fame career.

“Right now, the only thing that means anything to me is winning games,” Hali told a couple of reporters in an otherwise cleared-out locker room this week. “All those personal accolades, people don’t remember. If you remember a player, you remember championships.”

Perhaps that’s true. But then again, Thomas never won a championship during his career, and he is revered for his ability to bring down the quarterback.

The 31-year-old Hali would never acknowledge his career is nearing a conclusion, even though his sack totals have slowed along with his foot speed the past couple years. The four-time Pro Bowl selection only had four sacks last year, his fewest since the 2008 season.

The toll that time has taken on his body is seen on the weekly injury report, too. Hali is routinely held out of practice so that he can rest his aching, swollen knees.

But if nothing else, Hali still plays the game with tremendous pride. He spends all week in hot tubs and cold tubs, doing all kinds of recovery work to get himself ready to play. When the whistle is blown on Sunday, the fearsome player behind the black visor still sets his sights on the quarterback, tracking him down like a hunter in search of his prey.

“He’s making plays. That’s what he does,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “He kind of took me under his wing when I first came in, and it’s just good seeing him making plays.”

He doesn’t just show leadership off the field, either.

“He’s always planning stuff for us to do as a team, as a unit,” Berry said, “and it’s just good to see him out there balling.”

Steelers rookie quarterback Landry Jones learned what it’s like to stare across the line of scrimmage at No. 91 last week. He was dropped twice by Hali, the second time fumbling the ball way in the final minutes, squandering any chance Pittsburgh had of coming back in a 23-13 loss.

“He works hard and hard work pays off,” Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey said. “He takes care of his body and it’s showing, man. He’s still got it.”

Just how much longer he will have it is the question.

Hali agreed to rework his contract in the off-season to afford the Chiefs some flexibility with the salary cap. But free agency looms in the not-too-distant future, and there isn’t much of a market for aging outside linebackers.

“I can play better,” Hali acknowledged. “I don’t have a standard, but I just know what I did last week or what I did the week before, I know I could do better.”

The Chiefs certainly could use it. They are just 2-5 even after beating Pittsburgh, and head to London for Sunday’s game against Detroit still trying to dig out of a massive hole.

His sack totals, records, place in the history books? They don’t mean nearly as much to Hali as turning around this season, and finding a way back to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

“We can’t count ourselves out,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of things happen, and our guys just have to believe. It’s the NFL. It’s the toughest league to play in as a professional. It’s never going to be the same. It’s never how you draw it up. But it’s going to take a bunch of guys who believe in one another to go out and play and accomplish something.”

Notes: LB Ramik Wilson (knee), G Ben Grubbs (neck) and DE Mike DeVito (concussion) will not travel to London for the game. Grubbs, the starting left guard for the Chiefs, had played in every game so far this season.



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