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 Class of 2002
Dan Hampton considers himself lucky to be the 25th Chicago Bear inducted into the Hall of Fame..
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Hampton recognized for doing the dirty work
By Greg Garber
ESPN.com


CHICAGO -- The voice, as always, precedes Dan Hampton by several seconds, not to mention decibels.

"Hey!" it booms across a neatly appointed lawn just north of downtown -- with just a hint of rural Razorback. "Come on in and get a cup of coffee. You're a little early, aren't you?"

Well, yes. It's about 8:20 on a stunning, humidity-free July morning, but you can never be too early when it comes to Hampton. I mean, 12 years after retiring from the Chicago Bears, the man still has a serious motor. There he is, stepping from behind a sweet speed boat and a SUV, extending a massive hand full of crooked fingers. He looks great; jet black hair slicked back, tanned and built like an action hero. For a guy who's had 12 knee surgeries, he moves pretty well.

Hampton is part of the five-man Class of 2002 that will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 3. Joining the 12-year defensive lineman will be Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, Raiders tight end Dave Casper, Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth and, posthumously, Rams and Redskins head coach George Allen.

Dan Hampton
Dan Hampton played his entire 12-year career in the NFL with the Bears.
It's worth noting that the other three players all touched the ball with regularity. Hampton made a largely anonymous living in the teeming trenches. You've heard the term cannon fodder? You'll find his picture next to it in the dictionary.

"For any good football team to be a great football team -- especially a defense -- there's got to be an awful lot of grunt work done," Hampton says. "I was watching a thing on ESPN last night about our team. I kept seeing a bunch of guys around the quarterback, and I was never around it. And I'm thinking, `My God, I'm going to the Hall of Fame and nobody ever sees me.'

"Well, that's because I had two guys on top of me. And that's just the way it was."

Joe Gibbs once explained to Hampton the Redskins' decision to double-team him:

"He said, `On Monday, we design a game plan for the Bears. If we single-block you and put the center on Singletary, you throw the guard off and you make the play at the line of scrimmage, now it's second-and-10. If we double-team you, the back gets through the hole, he hits Singletary at three yards, we drag him another two. That's second-and-five. OK, let's see: second-and-five and second-and-10 -- which one do we want?'

"That's why I was double-teamed. It was frustrating as hell -- I hated it. But that's what's necessary for a defense to function as effectively as it can."

Middle linebacker Mike Singletary, who preceded Hampton into the Hall of Fame by four years, was the closer in Buddy Ryan's lethal 46 Defense that set handfuls of records in the middle 1980s. Hampton jokingly refers to Singletary as upper management and the other linebackers, Otis Wilson and Wilber Marshall, as sergeants. The defensive linemen -- Hampton and running mate Steve McMichael, Richard Dent and William Perry were the infantrymen.

"We're the janitors," Hampton says proudly. "We're the guys making sure that everybody keeps a semblance of reality here."

It was Hampton who engaged the offense at the point of attack, for six years at defensive end and another six at tackle. In the 46 Defense, Ryan lined him up over the center.

"When Hamp lined up over center, things changed -- I mean, for everybody," remembers safety Gary Fencik. "If you're on the outside, they couldn't double-team you. Dan was really the key guy. I don't think there's any coincidence that Buddy put him there."

Hampton, drafted No. 4 overall out of Arkansas in 1979, was supposed to play tackle for the Bears. But when Al Harris and Tommy Hart were injured, he was thrown in at defensive end. In two years, he became dominant; his 11.5 sacks and 73 tackles earned him his first of four trips to the Pro Bowl. As it turned out, 1985 was a microcosm of his career. Hampton opened the season at right tackle, then moved to left end for the rest of the season to accommodate rookie William Perry. The Bears defense, regarded as one of the NFL's elite units, savaged the opposition, allowing only 12.4 points, 258.4 total yards and 82.4 rushing yards per game. Chicago outscored the Giants, Rams and Patriots by a score of 91-10 in the playoffs on the way to winning Super Bowl XX.

It was difficult enough for the casual fan to understand Hampton's contributions; so much of his work was toward the goal of keeping Singletary free of the chaos. But, according to Hampton, even the Singletary wasn't fully appreciative until his career was over.

"A couple of years after he retired, I get a call," Hampton says. "I'm doing the Bear games, and I get a call. And I say, `Yeah, what's up Mike? How are you Samurai?' And he goes, `I just want to tell you, I've been watching a lot of film lately. I never realized what you did, that enabled me to do what I did.' And I started laughing. I said, `You're kidding me. You're kidding me.' He said, `No, I never realized it.' I was glad that he finally smelled the coffee."

Ryan, for one, always knew. The cantankerous defensive coordinator has never blown smoke when it comes to appraising players -- don't get him started on Perry but he loves Hampton to death.

"Hell of a football player," Ryan says from his ranch in Kentucky. "Hell of a player."

And that's all you really need to know. And to think that, two years into high school, Hampton was destined to be a musician. That's right -- he played saxophone for the Jacksonville High School (Arkansas) Red Devil Marching Band. How he got there and how he got back to football is a story stranger than fiction.

"In fifth and sixth grade, I was the biggest and fastest kid in school," Hampton remembers. "And they put me at running back, and I just ran over everybody. I was like Earl Campbell, Jr., right? Well that summer before the seventh grade, I fell [30 feet] out of a tree and spent the next six months in a wheelchair because I had a hip cast on, had crushed my ankles and broken my legs in a lot of different places. The doctor said, `We understand you're a pretty good football player but you need to think about other things, because we've got screws and plates and pins in there and you're not going to be able to run, let alone walk comfortably.'

"I always thought the saxophone was cool, so I started playing the saxophone. And that led me back to football. I was 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and the coach would be coming off the field after getting beat 30-0 at halftime, and I'm standing there, ready to assault those white lines with my sax, and he's thinking, `What a sissy.' You know, `Come on out here and put a helmet on.' They really sold me on it. Why not try it?

He played his junior season and found the game suited his oddly-calibrated temperament. Hampton's greatest football memory? Coming off the field in New Orleans after winning Super Bowl XX.

"At the end of the game, I went up to McMichael and said `You better get your boy Ditka up on your shoulders, because me and Dent are carrying Buddy Ryan off, 'cause we knew Buddy was leaving. Anyway, as we're leaving they put on the soundtrack of the Super Bowl Shuffle and 80,000 people and us, carrying my dear coach Buddy Ryan off, man that was the greatest thing.

"We had a soundtrack to us kicking everybody's ass."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.





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