Hall, in his 10th NFL season and less than a month from turning 30, makes no secret that most of his career is behind him. “I’m on the way out,” he said after Sunday’s win against the Chicago Bears, and the few white hairs on his chin reiterate the point.
But even so, Hall is somehow playing some of the best football of his career, and it comes at a time when Washington needs it. The team’s secondary has been inconsistent, and the news this week caused more concern: Safety Brandon Meriweather faces a two-game suspension for illegal hits, and safety Reed Doughty suffered a concussion in the game against the Bears, putting his participation against the Denver Broncos this week in question.
So there stood the old man Sunday afternoon, talking about a last ride. Hall has, in three of his past four games, been assigned to Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Dallas’s Dez Bryant, and the Bears’ Brandon Marshall —a combined 143 career touchdowns among them, but none this season at Hall’s expense. He has only one interception this season, but he hasn’t allowed opponents to victimize his side of the secondary.
“If I don’t bring it out there,” the veteran corner said, “I ain’t going to never bring it. It’s just part of the game. I can’t go out there and let a guy talk [stuff], throw me around, and be like, ‘Okay, thanks.’
“You’ve got to bow up at some point, and I was taught since a young guy, man, don’t take no [stuff].”
The criticism of Hall in past seasons was that he might bow up too often, or at the wrong times, or in a situation that might jeopardize his team’s chances. While with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, he was fined for a sideline altercation with former coach Bobby Petrino — a spat that Hall blamed Sunday afternoon on youth. Last year, he was ejected and later fined $30,000 following a tirade against a game official — an incident he blamed on a misunderstanding.
“No one really knows the full extent of that story,” he said, adding that he would save the details for a future autobiography.
Hall has a short temper, but Washington Coach Mike Shanahan indicated Sunday that Hall has shown growth and what appears to be a willingness to consider the effect his decisions have on the team. The coach praised Hall’s choice last week to avoid another public joust with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, even after Cutler referred to Hall as just “another player.”
“I’ve seen him play this well before,” Shanahan said of Hall. “But I like the way he’s handling himself on and off the football field.”
For his part, Hall said he has placed no emphasis on avoiding confrontations, other than the ones against wide receivers. And he shook off a suggestion that perhaps he was humbled last offseason after Washington cut him in a cost-cutting effort, before Hall returned to the team on a one-year deal — for a $1 million base salary, a fraction of the $8 million his original Redskins contract stipulated he’d be paid in 2013.
Hall admitted that he was initially reluctant to return to the team that had released him, but he had his reasons.
“I had to weigh all my options, and you know, there were more pros here than cons,” he said. “It wasn’t about the money for me at that point.”
He said his reputation as a hot-tempered player has been overblown.
“I’m a guy who plays, obviously, pretty passionately, wear my emotions on my sleeve,” he said. “But I ain’t a knucklehead. Guys don’t see me beating my wife, heard about no dumb [stuff] in the streets. I’m not a knucklehead.
“Obviously on the field, I’m not going to back down. I feel like I can take on anybody.”
This season, Hall said, he has taken joy in working alongside some of Washington’s young defensive backs, such as rookie cornerback David Amerson, but more than that he said he’s cherishing the chance to test himself against some of the league’s best receivers. Hall said he embraced Bryant after the Cowboys game, telling the 24-year-old that he appreciated the challenge.
“I like to see young guys like him, man, who brings that passion and just desire to be the best,” Hall said. “It brings the best out of me. You get more out of your enemies than you get out of your friends. On the field, he’s my enemy, man, and he definitely brings the best out of me, and hopefully I can do the same for him.”
These are the things players say during a final lap, when they begin to sense retirement coming and begin talking about appreciating things they might’ve once ignored. But, Hall said, that time hasn’t arrived yet, and he thinks there more left to prove.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot more football left,” he said, “and I want I want to go out and show it. I want to display it. I want to let people know I can still play.”