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Tamba Hali Recalls His First Career Sack, Which Was on Alex Smith

Posted Mar 10, 2016

One of the best pass rushers in franchise history recalls the first sack of his career

“I told her to watch the guy holding the ball—my job is to go get him."

That’s what then-Kansas City Chiefs rookie first-round pick Tamba Hali had told his mother, Rachel Keita, back in 2006, when she had made her first trip over from Liberia to watch her son play football.

Hali had left the war-torn country when he was just 10 years old, and his mother was forced to stay behind.

Hali and his mother hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, and during that time, Hali had become a standout football player at Penn State, ultimately being selected in the first round (No. 20 overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Chiefs.

This game against the San Francisco 49ers would be the first time she ever saw her son play football, and to this day, it’s memorable for many reasons.

It was the third game of the 2006 season and Hali had racked up 11 tackles in his first two career games but hadn’t yet brought down a quarterback for a sack.

With his mother, unacquainted with the game of football, in the stands, Hali recorded the first tally to an area of the box score that would soon define what is now known as “TAMBATIME.”

"I remember the [dreadlock] beads coming out of the helmet—the visor,” former 49ers and current Chiefs quarterback, Alex Smith, recalled of Hali. “I remember having lots of problems in there that day.

“It was not fun."

Smith was in his second year for the 49ers after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005, and on this October day back in 2006, he would become the target of Hali’s first career sack.

It came on just the second defensive play of the game.

"I just remember coming around the edge,” Hali recalled. “I was on the left side, beat the [offensive lineman] with some handwork and just brought [Alex] down."

It was a strip-sack, something that would become a trademark of sorts for Hali.

That was sack number one. That’s where it began.

Fast forward a decade to this past season, when Hali picked up his 86th career sack in Week 12 against the Buffalo Bills.

With the Chiefs leading, 21-16, midway through the third quarter, Hali once again beat the offensive lineman with his hands and brought down Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor on a third-and-6 play that resulted in defensive lineman Dontari Poe recovering the ball.

It was one of the key plays in the game and Hali was the difference—something that has been customary for the former first-round pick throughout his career.

Hali trails only Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas (126.5), the originator of “Sack City,” on the franchise’s all-time sacks list.

He’s in elite company.

After signing a new multi-year deal that will essentially keep him in red and gold for his entire career, Hali has firmly entrenched his spot among the best and most revered defensive players in franchise history.

“He loves being around the guys and loves to compete,” Smith, who laughed about their first encounter, said of his current teammate. “He just loves that pressure. That's very clear if you're around him.

“He's just relentless."

One of the guys who has been around Hali the most is veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was drafted in the first round just one year ahead of Hali back in 2005. He recalled the first time he saw a young Hali in the facility.

“When you think of a first-rounder, you just think of a bigger guy,” Johnson said. “A guy where if you look at him, he passes the eyeball test. When I looked at [Hali], he just kind of walked by—a regular guy, shorter than I expected.

“But when you got him on the field, I go, ‘OK, this is why he's a first-rounder.’

“His intensity to the ball, the motivation—it was special.”

Motivation might be an understated word when it comes to what it takes to be an elite pass rusher.

In Hali’s case, the 86 sacks he’s had in his career have come on over 100 individual plays, considering credit for half-sacks and such, and in the 10 years he’s been in the NFL, he’s played roughly 10,000 snaps of football.

Therefore, the success rate of bringing down a quarterback is about 1 percent of snaps.

The relentless nature it takes to play that position at that level year after year is why finding guys like Hali is rare.

“Football wasn't natural to me,” Hali explained. “I don't have a history of people in my family who have played, so I've had to constantly work at my game and develop it.

"I just wanted to get after the quarterback."

Hali once said that his commitment to the Chiefs was about "creating a legacy and being a Chief for life."

It's easy to see why he's so beloved by Chiefs Kingdom.

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