Dante Hall was the greatest kick and return specialist in Kansas City Chiefs franchise history.
The man nicknamed “X-Factor” and “The Human Joystick” set the bar high for future return specialists such as Devin Hester and Darren Sproles.
When Hall got off to a slow start in his NFL career, coaching great Dick Vermeil intervened at the perfect moment.
Vermeil, who had an excellent eye for talent, thought Hall would excel as a return man and wide receiver for the Chiefs.
Hall took his word for it and even honed his football skills in NFL Europe for a few months.
When Hall returned, he mesmerized the opposition with his unbelievable abilities to change direction and elude defenders.
Little wonder Hall became a two-time Pro Bowler who once returned kickoffs or punt returns for touchdowns in four straight games.
Today’s return specialists can only marvel at Dante Hall, the one and only “Human Joystick.”
Damieon Dante Hall was born to parents Gerald and Carolyn in Lufkin, TX on September 20, 1978.
He has an older sister LaShaunda and a younger brother Dre.
Hall’s single mother Carolyn raised him and his siblings during their formative years, per the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s official website.
Chester W. Nimitz High School (Harris County, TX)@FootballNimitz
Aaron Glenn '90
Dante Hall '95 pic.twitter.com/pz3MiXEsvM
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) December 13, 2021
Dante Hall attended Nimitz High School in Houston, TX.
He suited up for Nimitz Cougars head football coach Burnis Simon. The latter became Hall’s surrogate father after his biological dad Gerald passed away.
Hall remained in-state and burst onto the college football scene with the Texas A&M Aggies in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With The Texas A&M Aggies
Dante Hall attended Texas A&M University from 1996 to 1999. He majored in leadership and development.
Hall played running back and special teams for Texas A&M Aggies head football coach R.C. Slocum.
Dante Hall had 642 rushing yards and 573 punt return yards in his true freshman season in 1996.
Consequently, he earned Big 12 Freshman of the Year and First-Team All-Big 12 honors.
Despite Hall’s emergence, the Aggies were an average 6-6 team that missed a bowl game for the first time in three seasons.
Hall made a name for himself as a running back for the Aggies in his next two college football seasons.
He had 973 rushing yards and nine touchdowns for Texas A&M in 1997. The Aggies improved to 9-4 but lost to the fifth-ranked UCLA Bruins in the 1998 Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Nonetheless, Hall earned Second-Team All-Big 12 honors following his sophomore campaign.
He picked up where he left off the following season. Hall’s 1,024 rushing yards and eight touchdowns helped the Aggies win eleven of thirteen games in his junior season.
Unfortunately, they lost to the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the 1998 Sugar Bowl, 24-14.
Hall’s college football career ended on a sour note some ten months later.
Slocum dismissed Hall from the Aggies football team for violating team policy on November 9, 1999, per The Associated Press.
Although Slocum didn’t go into specifics, Hall thought his dismissal stemmed from parking violations.
Hall remembered Slocum calling him out during a team meeting the previous week for not tucking in his shirt tail properly. Slocum then reprimanded Hall for parking his car in his reserved spot in front of Texas A&M University’s Cain Hall.
Hall also skipped practice and a team meeting before his dismissal from the Aggies.
Hall admitted the error of his ways almost two decades later.
“To put it bluntly, I was a knucklehead,” Hall told 12thMan.com’s Rusty Burson in the spring of 2014. “If I could do it all over again, I would handle it so much differently.”
Slocum told Burson he met Hall after his dismissal and told him he would help him achieve his dream of playing in the National Football League.
It turned out Slocum put in a good word for Hall several months before he entered the 2000 NFL Draft. Slocum called Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson and assured him they wouldn’t have any issues with Hall.
Hall finished his four-year stint with the Texas A&M Aggies with 2,818 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns, 943 punt return yards, two punt returns for touchdowns, and 686 kick return yards.
Hall’s 4,706 all-purpose yards currently rank fourth all-time in Aggies football program history.
Dante Hall eventually became one of the most electrifying kick and punt return specialists in Kansas City Chiefs franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The Kansas City Chiefs made Dante Hall the 153rd overall selection of the 2000 NFL Draft.
It all started with Hall’s college football coach R.C. Slocum calling Chiefs GM Carl Peterson some five months earlier.
It was one of the best draft acquisitions in Kansas City’s franchise history.
Chiefs quarterback Trent Green told The Athletic’s Nate Taylor in November 2021 that Hall’s pro football career got off to a rough start because he was changing positions.
Hall was primarily a running back at Texas A&M but would evolve into one of the most electrifying kick and punt return specialists in Kansas City Chiefs history.
Hall suited up for Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham during his rookie season in 2000.
Cunningham preferred bigger West Coast-type of receivers. Unfortunately, the 5’8″ Hall didn’t fit that mold. Hall also couldn’t fit in as a running back – his natural position in college.
To compound Hall’s woes, he battled some nagging injuries.
Consequently, Hall didn’t have a productive rookie year – he suited up in just five games and produced a combined 395 yards on kick and punt returns.
The Chiefs won seven games in 2000 and missed the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Kansas City eventually fired Cunningham and hired Dick Vermeil following the 2000 NFL campaign. It was a massive turning point in Dante Hall’s pro football career.
Vermeil told The Athletic he had always been fond of talented kick returners such as Alvin Haymond, Wally Henry, Az-Zakir Hakim, and Tony Horne dating back to his days as a first special teams coach with the Los Angeles Rams in 1969.
When Vermeil took over the reins in Kansas City, he groomed Dante Hall to become an elite punt and kick returner. He also wanted Hall to learn the nuances of the wide receiver position.
Hall played for NFL Europe’s Scottish Claymores to refine his skills as a slot receiver in the spring of 2001.
Hall endured showers with no heaters and cramped locker rooms in Europe just so he could fulfill the vision Vermeil laid out for his NFL future.
Hall told Taylor that the NFL Europe experience humbled him to no end. He also had a choice: to react bitterly to his circumstances or adapt accordingly.
Fortunately, Dante Hall chose the latter.
Vermeil told the Chiefs in their first special teams meeting that they were going to emerge as the best kick return team in the NFL.
“I told the players we have the guy in this room that’s going to make that all possible: Dante Hall,” Vermeil told The Athletic.
For his part, Hall gave credit to Vermeil for reviving his NFL career.
“Without the heavenly-sent Dick Vermeil, my career probably would’ve been over after another year or two,” Hall told Taylor in the fall of 2021. “The biggest thing was just his belief in me before I had even done anything. He had blind faith.”
Hall responded to Vermeil’s blind faith by paying more attention to his nutrition, recovery, work ethic in the weight room, and film study.
Vermeil made good on his promise of turning Kansas City into the best kick return squad in the pro ranks. Hall remembered the Chiefs’ special teams had longer practices and team meetings than most teams.
Not only that, but the Chiefs also drafted players who thrived in special teams. It was an unusual trend during Hall’s time.
Hall racked up a combined 1,204 yards on kick and punt returns in 2001. The Chiefs weren’t much better – they won just six games and missed the postseason bus yet again.
However, Dante Hall’s NFL career skyrocketed in the next two years. The hard work he put in and Vermeil’s faith in his abilities paid massive dividends.
Hall scored on his first kick return for a touchdown in his pro football career against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 of the 2002 NFL season.
Hall caught the Steelers’ Jeff Reed’s kick at the goal line. His blockers included Fred Jones, Derrick Blaylock, Donald Willis, Marc Boerigter, and Omar Easy.
Hall took off from the right side of the field and shot through the holes his blockers opened up for him.
Hall turned off the afterburners, eluded several Pittsburgh defenders, and found the end zone.
Dante Hall, the man whose nicknames were “X-Factor” and “The Human Joystick,” was officially born.
Chiefs radio play-by-play announcer Mitch Holthus gave Hall the latter nickname.
“Dante had the ability to go north, south, east, or west in a nanosecond,” Holthus told Taylor in 2021. “I just said, “He’s the human joystick.’ It stuck because it resonated with people.”
Hall pulled off another incredible special teams feat the following week against the Houston Texans.
Hall caught a punt from the Texans’ Chad Stanley, made mincemeat of five Texans’ defenders, and returned the punt into the end zone in fourteen seconds.
It was a memorable punt return for a touchdown for Dante Hall because he grew up in the Greenspoint area of Houston, TX.
Hall won the AFC special teams player of the week award an unprecedented three straight weeks.
Hall continued his amazing streak in Week 5 against the undefeated Denver Broncos.
93 days until the season starts? 🙌
93 yards for The Human Joystick. 🕹
— NFL (@NFL) June 4, 2019
He caught a punt at the Chiefs’ seven-yard line and ran into a slew of Broncos defenders. Undaunted, Hall lured Denver’s defense to the right side of the field, retreated to the two-yard line, and somehow found a seam in the left side.
Hall turned on the jets and took the ball 93 yards down the length of the left side of the field for another special teams touchdown.
Dante Hall’s streak of scoring a touchdown on a kickoff or punt return in four straight games in 2003 still stands as an NFL record.
Hall scored 10 touchdowns, amassed 2,039 all-purpose yards, and averaged 19.2 yards per catch during an incredible 13-game stretch from 2002 to 2003. Behind Hall’s stunning emergence, the Chiefs won eleven of those games.
Hall earned Second-Team All-Pro honors following the 2002 NFL season. He also became a Pro Bowler in 2002 and 2003.
Hall became a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2003. The Chiefs won thirteen games – their most in six seasons. It was also their best record in Vermeil’s five-year tenure as Kansas City’s head coach.
The Chiefs ended their five-year postseason drought but lost to Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round, 38-31.
Nonetheless, Dante Hall’s star had risen so quickly by then.
Hall became so popular that David Letterman invited him to appear on his late-night show. Letterman usually invited big-name quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings.
Letterman had never invited a punt return specialist to appear on his show until Dante Hall became a prominent figure on sports highlight reels.
It was a surreal experience for Hall, who didn’t believe the Chiefs’ public relations staff when they told him about David Letterman – he thought they were joking.
They weren’t. One of the highlights of Hall’s interview with Letterman was the post-show party at Jay-Z’s 40/40 nightclub.
Hall related well with Jay-Z because both of them grew up without a father.
“I related to a lot of his music because he didn’t have a father, either,” Hall told 12thMan.com in 2014. “He’d been forced to overcome some of the issues I had dealt with in growing up without a father.”
Dante Hall co-authored a book with Bill Althaus entitled “X-Factor” in 2004. The publication chronicled his journey from his days with the Texas A&M Aggies to the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.
Hall continued playing at a high level for the Chiefs’ special teams unit in the next three seasons.
He had a career-high 1,718 kick return yards in the 2004 NFL campaign. He never had fewer than 1,478 kick return yards from 2004 to 2006.
Kansas City averaged nine wins during that time frame. The Chiefs made the postseason in 2006 but lost to the Colts yet again, 23-8.
Hall’s seven-year tenure in Kansas City ended when the Chiefs traded him to the St. Louis Rams for a fifth-round draft selection in April 2007.
Hall recorded his 12th career return for a touchdown in a game against the Dallas Cowboys on September 30, 2007.
Hall had a combined 1,492 kick return yards despite appearing in just fifteen games for the Rams during his two-year stint in St. Louis.
Ankle issues limited Hall to just eight games in 2008. He retired from the NFL following the 2008 NFL campaign.
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) April 16, 2021
Dante Hall’s 12,397 return yards currently rank sixth in NFL history. As of the summer of 2018, Hall is the Chiefs’ franchise leader in kickoff returns (360), kickoff return yardage (8,644), and kickoff return touchdowns (six).
Dick Vermeil, the head coach who launched Dante Hall’s career as an elite punt and kick return specialist, felt he was a unique special teams player.
“I watch these returners today, and they’re phonies in contrast to Dante in terms of how he would attack the coverage,” Vermeil told The Athletic in November 2021. “Dante, to me, was the best returner that I had ever been around.”
Dante Hall, his wife, son, and two daughters currently reside in New Jersey.
Hall told 12thMan.com that he took some time off following his retirement from the National Football League in 2008.
Hall earned his personal trainer and real estate certifications shortly afterward. He told Burson that he lost a lot of money during the 2008 recession. Securing a real estate license helped him offset his losses.
Hall became the running backs coach of St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, CA in the summer of 2013.
Hall tried his hand at sports broadcasting when he joined Houston radio station KILT 610 AM as Cody Stoots and John Lopez’s co-host for their midday show in the spring of 2016.
However, Hall left the station after less than five months on the job. He told the station’s program director Ryan McCredden that he tried to make it work but felt it wasn’t a good fit.
Hall became a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Who's the greatest return man in NFL history?
— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) October 18, 2019
Dante Hall proclaimed Chicago Bears great Devin Hester as the best return man in league history during a guest appearance on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” in the fall of 2019.
The Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame inducted Dante Hall in 2021.
Hall is also a Second-Team NFL 2000s All-Decade selection as a kick returner. He’s a First-Team NFL 2000s All-Decade Team member as a punt returner.