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Monday, October 6, 2003
Vermeil: Clip could have been called on Hall return

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Even the NFL officials seemed awed by Dante Hall.

Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil said Monday a clipping call could have been made during Hall's remarkable 93-yard punt return that beat Denver 24-23 on Sunday. The penalty would have nullified the game-winning touchdown.

"It's a judgment call. If I were the Broncos, I'd say I want it called," said Vermeil.

The coach said it depends on the angle from which the play is viewed to determine if Julian Battle hit his man on the back or shoulder.

The darting, knee-buckling return was Hall's fourth touchdown return in four games, breaking his own NFL record and continuing his run as the league's most electrifying player.

It came with a little more than eight minutes left, and kept the Chiefs unbeaten in five games while the Broncos fell to 4-1.

"If you're asking me if there was a clip, yeah, there was a clip," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan. "It doesn't take a football genius to figure that one out, especially looking at it on the tape.

"But officials aren't 100 percent, just like our players aren't 100 percent. Some things get by them and other things don't."

Shanahan agreed with Vermeil that clipping is common on returns.

"But these things do happen and you've got to find a way to get it done," he said.

Vermeil said that viewed from the sideline camera, "the hit is definitely a hit in the back. When you get a chance to look at it from the end zone, you'll see it's right on the shoulder not right on the back."

Despite the non-call, Hall's incredible return might stand as the most memorable play of the season.

The Chiefs were going for a block and did not even have a return on, and instead of catching the ball inside the 10-yard line, Hall was supposed to let it bounce into the end zone.

But Hall caught the ball. First he darted one way, then the other, eluding the first few Broncos to reach him. Then he stutter-stepped as tacklers closed in. Then he turned and ran back toward the end zone.

"I thought, `What are you doing? You're about to run into the end zone and get a safety," said Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks. "Then I realized who I was talking about and I hushed my mouth. He is awesome."

Leaving most of the Broncos bunched in the middle of the field near the goal line, the 5-foot-8 Hall looped back to his left, where a convoy of blockers awaited to escort him past the only opponent left between him and a touchdown -- punter Micah Knorr.

The last 20 yards, Hall jogged into the end zone before 80,000 screaming fans.

"I've never seen a guy do it better," said Vermeil. "Eighty percent of that was on his own."

Chiefs players say that one thing that sets Hall apart is his uncanny instinct for setting up blocks.

"He's got a sixth sense about him. He feels the game," said Mike Maslowski, who made the final block on Knorr. "He feels where his blocks are coming from and he commits to it when he sets it up just right."

With 11 regular-season games remaining, Hall has already tied the NFL's single-season record of four touchdown returns, last done by Denver's Rick Upchurch in the mid-70s.

"He's as good as I've seen in 14 years of being in the league," said Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe.

As his stardom increases, Hall remains popular with teammates. He is always quick to share credit.

"What can I say? I'm truly blessed right now," he said. "It's a combination of my teammates and their downfield blocking and sticking with the play longer than their opponents. It was a total team effort."