It’s that time of year. Once again, the Kansas City Chiefs management has to face the Tamba Hali Dilemma: reconfigure his pay and bring him back or let him walk. This year specifically, Hali’s contract has expired, and the front office will need to give him a brand new deal if they want him back.
The problem is not that Tamba Hali is asking for too much money, as this is something he would never do. The dilemma lies in this question: At 32 years old and with a young replacement in waiting, is Hali worth paying at all anymore? To me, the answer is easy. I think that the Chiefs need to do what is necessary to bring back fan-favorite Tamba Hali. Unfortunately though I’m not in charge of the Chiefs roster, so all I can do is hope.
It’s always sad to think that someone of Hali’s stature might finally be turning in his playbook, especially for a fan my age, who can hardly remember a Chiefs team without him. He’s played outside linebacker and defensive end for the Chiefs since his rookie year in 2006. Unfortunately though, professional football is a business, and Tamba isn’t getting any younger.
If this is it for Tamba in Kansas City we will at least be able to look back fondly on the incredible legacy he has left. Tamba Hali has put up some very respectable numbers over the years, but plenty of people do this. It’s not about the numbers. For Tamba, it is the humility, the passion, the loyalty and the unending perseverance that have etched him into the hearts of Chiefs fans.
Tamba Hali has always been an underdog who overcomes the challenges he faced, and I have always admired him for that. For starters, he was born in Liberia during a very violent civil war. Pressed for resources, Tamba nearly joined the war effort and became a guerilla fighter. Luckilly, he instead fled Liberia at age 10 and moved to the United States to live with his father. Even then, his struggles did not end. As a fifth-grader new to America, Tamba was illiterate. Now, he tweets in English in all caps.
He continues to act as if he has everything to prove. He continues to outwork everyone by a mile, as if he isn’t already considered one of the best pass rushers of his generation. He continues to act with a sense of urgency in everything he does. Simply put, Tamba Hali is an underdog by nature, and he always will be. It’s enmeshed in the very fabric of his being. No matter how high atop the mountain he climbs, he will always have a chip on his shoulder.
If I squint, I can almost see that chip from section 318, where my family and I have season tickets. Both before the games and during every single snap, Hali is a spectacle. Every time the gates are opened at Arrowhead and the field comes into our sight, more than likely the first player I see is Tamba Hali, sweating up a storm as he works on his pass-rushing moves. Note that this is a couple of hours before the game will actually start, and most other players are just now strolling in to the stadium.
Once the game does start, Tamba is always a ridiculously high-motor player. I have never once witnessed him give up on a play. Ever. In 10 years, he never has; that’s just who he is.
In 2013, the Chiefs were playing the Colts, and it came to everyone’s attention that the entire front of Tamba’s jersey was drenched in blood. This was at a time when he wore a dark visor on his helmet, so it was hard to even tell if it was his own blood or someone else’s. Unshaken, Tamba lined up for the next play and proceeded as if he weren’t in need of some OxyClean. Tamba Hali is a warrior, plain and simple.
Even as he has gotten older and his team has drafted his potential replacements, Hali has remained loyal to the team and done whatever is necessary to help the Kansas City Chiefs win. He has taken both Justin Houston and Dee Ford, younger versions of his same position, under his wing in the past years. Houston has turned into arguably the best pass rusher in the league, working in tandem with Hali. The even younger Ford has shown great promise and, in my opinion, shown that he is ready to fill in effectively for Hali.
It takes a special kind of person to groom your own successors but it is not out of character for Hali to put the team first. Last season, he even took a $3 million pay cut to stay in Kansas City. Us fans love him for it.
It has always been obvious that Tamba Hali is not your average NFL player.
Not so fast, though. Off the field he drops insane amounts of cash, much like any other NFL player would. Tamba Hali sure is unique on the field, but off the field, maybe he’s just the same as any other rich NFL player.
While Pacman Jones spends one million dollars on strippers, Tamba Hali has been known to leave $10,000 tips for waiters he doesn’t know and donate $50,000 to help fight Ebola in Africa.
Tamba Hali has left a tremendous legacy. Considering his career in Kansas City, I naturally start to draw some parallels to a certain former Chief. Think about it. Tamba is second all-time on the Chiefs list with 86.0 career sacks. He was a Chiefs first round pick. He has been Kansas City’s premier edge rusher for about a decade. He is a high motor player with a very interesting story. He is known for his charitable impact in the Kansas City community but he stays low key about it. His career in Kansas City may be ending even though he is still a more than capable player. And most importantly, he is adored by the fans and will be long after he is gone. Die-hard Chiefs fans may see what I’m getting at here. Don’t get too excited. I won’t make explicit comparisons. Tamba Hali has earned more than just the right to be compared to a former great. Tamba himself is the ideal mold of what a professional football player should be.
However, I have no doubt, that one day, 20 years from now, I will still see plenty of 91 jerseys at Arrowhead on Sunday afternoons, just as I see plenty of 58 jerseys now. And someday, I know I’ll see Tamba Hali’s name on the Ring of Honor, right along with Derrick Thomas.
I feel privileged to have been witness on so many Sundays to the amazing career that Tamba Hali has led. I learned his name when I was nine and had trouble pronouncing it, and now I’m 19 and I’ll never forget it. I sincerely hope that the Chiefs are able to reach a deal to bring Tamba Hali back but alas, it is a very possible that Tamba has played his last snap with the Chiefs. To me, Hali’s career has been perfect. My only regret is that the Chiefs couldn’t give Tamba a championship because he deserved it more than anyone.
Tamba, if this really is the end of the road for you in KC, I want to thank you for 10 phenomenal seasons. Thank you for being one of my childhood heroes. Thank you for all the anxious quarterbacks and fourth quarter forced fumbles. Thank you for giving us a reason to cheer, especially in times when there wasn’t much else to cheer about. Thank you for always giving weary fans like me a reason to believe and to remain loyal, especially when the franchise seemed to be without direction. Thank you for taking young players under your wing, even though you knew they would eventually take your job. Thank you for always putting the team first, because most players of your caliber would never consider taking a pay cut. Thank you for absolutely never giving up on anything, both in-game and out. Thank you for playing with heart in a game that is increasingly focused on money. And most of all, Tamba Hali, thank you for giving your absolute everything to Kansas City, even when Kansas City couldn’t give you much in return.
Thank you for being Kansas City’s leader, teacher, underdog and warrior.
Thank you, Tamba, for being a Chief.