Remembering Tamba Hali, an All-Time Chief

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 27: Outside linebacker Tamba Hali
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 27: Outside linebacker Tamba Hali /

With Tamba Hali being released on Monday, what will Kansas City Chiefs’ fans remember most about his 12 seasons with the team?

In a move long expected by most fans in Chiefs’ Kingdom, the Kansas City Chiefs announced Monday they would be parting ways with long-time veteran Tamba Hali. At the age of 34, Hali’s estimated cap hit of $9.4 million coupled with his recent injury history simply became too much for the Chiefs’ front office to justify.

Even so, Hali has had a memorable career for the Chiefs, playing 12 seasons for the team. From his journey to the United States and the NFL, to his leadership on and off the gridiron, Hali has been a special player and person. Whether Hali plans to continue playing or not, his career will be remembered most for the following reasons.

From Africa to the NFL

The low odds of making it in professional sports are well-publicized, with far less than a percent of high school seniors playing a down in the NFL. Given these astronomical odds, Hali’s ascendance to professional sports is even more incredible.

Hali was born in 1983 in Liberia, a country on the brink of civil war. At the age of nine, he and his family were forced to flee their home to safety in the Liberian countryside. The following year Hali had to leave his mother, who he would be without for the next 12 years, to live with his father in the United States. He worked tirelessly to achieve his goals in professional football, believing the financial means these would garner would allow him to be reunited with his mother. You can listen to the full story here. Hali’s journey through hardship is inspiring, and it helped shape the way he approached the game on and off the field throughout his entire career.

Impact on the Field

While he will be best remembered for his play at outside linebacker, Hali was actually drafted as a defensive end out of Penn State. He spent the first three years of his professional career playing this position out of the Chiefs’ 4-3 defense. With the firing of Herm Edwards after a disappointing 2008 season, and subsequent hiring of Todd Haley, the Chiefs converted from a 4-3 scheme on defense to a 3-4 scheme.

With this transition, Hali was asked to drop 20 pounds and convert to his current position of outside linebacker. Chiefs fans are intimately aware, from watching other players attempt this, how difficult transitioning to a different position can be. There are finer points to each position that can take players years to develop, with some never fully developing them. Ironically, this transition seemed a major catalyst to Hali’s development as a player. The following years were arguably the best of his great career, posting double digit sacks in 2010 and 2011.

In total, Hali had a fabulous career statistically. He terrorized backfields in the AFC West and the NFL over 177 games, tallying an impressive 588 combined tackles, 89.5 sacks, and 32 forced fumbles. He was selected to five straight Pro Bowls from 2011 to 2015 and was selected second team All-Pro in 2012.  Hali places in the top-50 in career sacks, ahead of current greats James Harrison and past greats like Howie Long. Time will tell, but it is likely Hali will eventually be inducted into the Chiefs’ Ring of Honor along with fellow Chiefs’ pass rushing alumni Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith.

Impact in the Locker Room

In sports today, talent is often sought at the expense of character and leadership. But, time and again we see that the most successful teams historically have had the strongest leaders. While the Chiefs struggled for a large part of Hali’s early career, he was undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of the rapid success and culture change the organization has experienced under Andy Reid. Here are a few notable quotes by members of the organization:

Andy Reid

"“He’s all about the team. He has been that way since I’ve been here and I’m sure he was that way before I got here.”"

Bob Sutton

"“If there’s ever a definition of all in, he’s all in. Every day, every way, and that’s a great thing for us on defense.”"

Derrick Johnson

"“The guy is freaking tough man. If you want to take someone into a back alley with you to have a street fight, Tamba Hali would be my first choice.”"

Leadership is not simply getting people to fall in line; it is getting them to join you. Hali had this type of impact on his teammates and it had a profound effect on the organization. Needless to say, his presence will be difficult to replace.

Unfortunately, Father Time is undefeated. Due mostly to knee issues, Hali’s play declined precipitously in the twilight of his career. But, his talent and leadership were never in question. In fact, these factors have played a major part in the current success of the Chiefs’ franchise. This character has helped shape so many players in the organization over the years, and it goes without saying, Tamba Hali will be greatly missed.