Between them, DeAngelo Hall and Steve Smith have four Pro Bowl selections, four head-to-head matchups and some serious bad blood.
Hall, the Washington Redskins’ No. 1 cornerback, and Smith, the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, will renew a relationship Sunday that’s more than mere acquaintance.
The 5-foot-9 Smith and the 5-10 Hall are both undersized for the NFL, helping fuel passions that sometimes boil over - as they did Sept. 23, 2007, at the Georgia Dome.
Hall, then with the Atlanta Falcons, was penalized 37 yards for interfering with Smith on a bomb, 15 for holding him on the next play and 15 more for taunting him three plays later to set up a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter. Carolina, which trailed 17-10 before Hall lost his composure, won 27-20 despite Smith catching just one pass for 6 yards.
“We were pretty good friends, talked a lot. [I] went over to his house for one dinner one time we played down there the night before the game,” Hall said. “Some words kind of got exchanged through the course of the next game [in 2007], and it just went downhill from there. We went from being good friends to [enemies who] don’t talk.”
Smith declined this week to discuss the 2007 incident, saying only, “You already know that answer,” and staying silent when asked a follow-up question.
Hall did enough talking for the both of them.
“Anytime you get a guy who’s going to push you to the brink of insanity on the football field, you got your job cut out for you,” Hall said. “I’m sure he wants to… try to dominate me, catch every ball. I’m going to try to do the same thing, not let him smell the ball. … [But] I’m not going into this thing trying to kill him. I’m not going into this thing for war, for blood. You gotta help your team try to win a game.”
Carolina has won four of the five games in which they have gone head-to-head, and Smith burned the Falcons for 16 catches, 196 yards and two touchdowns in their first two matchups. But Hall held him to six catches, 71 yards and no scores in their next three duels.
“He can make you miss, and he can strike up the band,” Hall said. “He can take a 1-yard route, turn it upfield and get 15 to 20 yards. Whenever you get a good receiver, you want to go out there and dominate, kind of let everybody know, ‘Hey, I’m still good at what I do.’ That’s going to be my mindset. That’s going to be his mindset.”
Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray said he expects Hall to be at his best against Smith.
“If you’re any type of competitor, you want to go against Steve Smith, and I know what type of competitor DeAngelo is,” Gray said. “You’re looking at two Pro Bowl guys who want the football in their hands. I can imagine if DeAngelo was an offensive player, he’d want to be Steve Smith - ‘Give me the ball. Put the center of attention around me.’ ”
Hall was the center of attention in a 2006 game in which he got under Terrell Owens’ skin enough to cause the then-Cowboys receiver to spit in his face. Owens was fined $35,000 by the NFL, but Hall declined to take Owens’ calls the next couple of days before being persuaded into a three-way chat with former defensive back Deion Sanders and basically accepting the apology.
When Hall was next preparing to square off with Owens on Nov. 16, Gray approached him to take his temperature about the matchup.
“DeAngelo said: ‘The past is the past. I want T.O.,’ ” Gray recalled. “And you know what? We never had an incident. You can’t let your emotions take over your play.”