By Barry Svrluga
Friday, November 6, 2009
A year ago Thursday, DeAngelo Hall was in his first day as an unemployed, unwanted NFL cornerback. He had been to the Pro Bowl twice. He had talked his way out of a job in Atlanta and into a big contract in Oakland. And he had given up enough yards as a Raider that the team's then-interim coach, Tom Cable, decided to cast him aside. The perception: The move would save the Raiders money and headaches. Hall was cut.
This week, as Hall came off the field following practice with the Washington Redskins, he thought back on it all and said, repeatedly: "I probably wouldn't change a thing."
This comes from a man who will return Sunday to the place where he forged his reputation, for better or worse: the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where Hall spent the first four years of his career as a Falcon. The date of the game, Nov. 8, marks the first anniversary of the announcement of his signing with the Redskins, with whom he has tried to rebuild that reputation and his career. No more sideline tirades. No more "MeAngelo."
"All the things people said about me, as misunderstood as I am, I probably wouldn't change a thing, because it's made me who I am," Hall said. "Had I not been traded from Atlanta to Oakland and got that big contract out there and kinda got lazy, I probably wouldn't have the passion and desire that I have now.
"I probably wouldn't change a thing. I'd do everything the same. 'Misunderstood' is cool with me."
It is hard, considering how direct Hall is, to see how he could be "misunderstood." In the course of discussing his time in Atlanta over the past few days, he called former Falcons coach Bobby Petrino -- with whom he clashed openly on the sidelines -- a profanity. On Thursday, in talking about how badly he wanted to leave Atlanta -- though he still owns a home there -- he essentially called current Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff a liar.
And as he said it all, he professed that he doesn't care what those folks, or anyone else, might think about it.
"People are going to say what they want to say," Hall said. "Hey, we been 6-0, and I been the best corner in the league. You got a lot of front-runners. When you're winning, everything's good. . . . We all know when you win, you can do no wrong. We're trying to win games. We're trying to win games."
Early in his career, Hall expected to do that in Atlanta. The eighth overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Virginia Tech, Hall intercepted 17 passes in his four years with the Falcons, becoming a Pro Bowler after the 2005 and '06 seasons.
"I got to know him personally, as a guy," said Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who lockered next to Hall in Atlanta. "Not just as a teammate, but personally. He seemed like a great guy. A lot of people see the images, the stuff that went on off-field, and some stuff he did and try to judge him as that as a person. But he's a great person."
In one 2007 game against Carolina, Hall committed three big penalties in a single drive, then got in a heated exchange with Petrino and assistant coach Joe Whitt Jr. Teammates eventually had to restrain him, and he was fined $100,000 and suspended for part of a game. He also loudly denounced the Falcons for cutting veteran nose tackle Grady Jackson, and made the controversial decision to wear eye black in support of disgraced Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick in the wake of Vick's dogfighting suspension.
So when Dimitroff and Mike Smith, now in his second year coaching the Falcons, took over following the 2007 season, they evaluated the entire roster. Smith spoke to all his new players, including Hall. "I liked Coach Smith," Hall said. But he also said Dimitroff promised to work out a new deal with him. The Falcons didn't, and that March, he was traded to Oakland, where he worked out a new seven-year deal potentially worth nearly $70 million.
"I ain't trust Dimitroff at all," Hall said Thursday. "He lied to me. He already lied to me. He promised me he was gonna get something done, and he's behind my back trying to shop me. . . . That's one thing: If you keep it straight, 100 [percent] with you, I'm going to keep it 100 [percent] with you. Truthfully, I'm going to fight, claw for you. If you lie to me, I can't trust you. I don't want you."
Though a spokesperson, Dimitroff declined to comment Thursday. It is, after all, old news, and it comes up now only because Hall will play Sunday in Atlanta. Hall is trying to fit in with the Redskins and become one of the mainstays during a trying season. After his seven-game stint in Washington in 2008, he signed a six-year deal that could be worth $55 million -- with $23 million guaranteed -- in the offseason to remain here. A starter opposite five-year veteran Carlos Rogers, Hall has three interceptions -- the only interceptions the Redskins have managed. He has, as Rogers said, "playmaking ability." But when asked to evaluate his season, Hall said: "It's been okay."
"I think DeAngelo has to understand: If you play within the scheme of the defense, we'll give you a chance to make plays," secondary coach Jerry Gray said. "But if you play outside of the box, then you make no plays, because now you can't even play your own technique. And to me, he understands that. We talk about it all the time."
Wednesday afternoon, as the Redskins stretched prior to practice, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blared through the speakers by the practice field. Hall stood in the midst of his teammates, banging his head to the music. He smiled broadly, seemingly the only one into it. Is he, he was asked later, in the midst of overhauling his public image?
"I think they still think of me as the same person," he said. "I think they do. I'm not 'ear to the streets' a whole lot, but I hear guys still bashing me like they did when I was in Oakland. It just kind of goes with the territory. I'm just kind of misunderstood at times. You just roll with the punches."
But doesn't it bother him?
"Not at all," he said. "Not at all. I'm here to play football, not make friends."