Five minutes with a legend: Dan Hampton

Posted Sept. 12, 2012 @ 4:20 p.m.
Posted By Mike Beacom

Buddy Ryan’s legendary "46" defense was largely predicated on DT Dan Hampton’s ability to draw double-teams, freeing up other Chicago defenders to make impact plays. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Hampton made his plays, too, recording 55 sacks over one seven-year span (1982-88).

In college, Hampton was a standout for Lou Holtz’s Arkansas teams of the late-1970s, and was named the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1978. The Bears made him the fourth pick of the 1979 NFL draft, and the following year Hampton earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

In 1984, Hampton had a career-best 11½ sacks and the Bears won their first division in five years; the team clinched the NFC Central with a win over Minnesota in Week 13, and to celebrate, Hampton grabbed a tub of Gatorade and soaked head coach Mike Ditka. In 1985 — the year Chicago won its only Super Bowl — Hampton moved outside to the DLE spot, where he had played his first three NFL seasons, in the "46" to make room for first-round pick William “The Refrigerator” Perry; Hampton played end for much of the rest of his career until his retirement in 1990.

Considered to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen in history, Hampton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

The Bears' defenses of the mid-1980s rank among the best in NFL history. Give me one defense from recent years you would be comfortable adding to that conversation.

When I retired, (Bill) Parcells retired at the same time, and we both went to work for NBC. He was part of a forum and said, ‘Everybody wants to know if I were starting a team, what would I want?’ and he pointed at me. He said, ‘Do you realize when we played these guys (the Bears) they had five All-Pro pass rushers? Who can block that?’

Maybe the Giants team from 2007 that beat the Patriots. That pass rush was impressive. They were kicking ass and taking names; that’s how we played. And the Steelers from a few years ago when they won the Super Bowl, but I don’t know. Everything is different now. You can’t keep a bunch of premier players together due to the constraints of the salary cap. I don’t know if you’ll see a team like (the Bears) again.

You were one of the most musically gifted members from the 1985 Super Bowl team, but one of the few to refuse to do the "Super Bowl Shuffle." How much peer pressure was there to get you to do it?

Everything was good about it — the tune, the production value — I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it because I desperately wanted to win. I couldn’t live with losing, and the last thing — as a superstitious idiot — I wanted to be was a guy beating my chest saying we were going to win the Super Bowl when we had never been. I just said, ‘Hey, God bless you, you guys do it, I just don’t feel comfortable.’ The funny thing is, they rewrote a few of the lines and went to (Steve) McMichael. He came to me and asked, ‘Should I do this?’ and I said: ‘You idiot, you’re more superstitious than I am.’ He knew I was right.

Is music still part of your life today?

I absolutely love the playing of music (saxophone, guitar, drums). I still have some boys in Arkansas that, when I’m able to go back and visit my family and my mother, we’ll get together and play. We’ll play for five hours and do everything we know. It’s beyond listenable — it’s good. Music is a great source of comfort in life. I hate to say it mellows me out, cause I was never much of a mellow guy, but it’s soothing.

You were disruptive at both end and tackle — were you more comfortable at one position?

I was drafted as a tackle but when I got to camp all the ends got hurt, so they put me at end. Made All-Pro and things were good. But when Alan Page retired, Buddy kept saying, ‘No, you’re going back inside. He had moved me inside in the '46' because of my power and strength. I had that great quote when I was a rookie: “Strength has never been my weakness.”

It took me a little while to figure (tackle) out, but I was vastly more of an impact player for our defense inside. It was a paradox because I was really good inside, but that created double-teams, and the double-teams created wear and tear, and that led to knee operations and breaking down. The better I played, the more attention I received, the more abuse I took. It was a vicious cycle.

At the very end, after they drafted Fridge, I was a logical candidate to go back outside.

Does it bother you at all that history remembers the ’86 Giants for inventing the Gatorade bath, even though you guys did it two years before?

It was something spontaneous that just popped in my head. We were up in Minnesota and won the division and I thought we should do something to commemorate this. We were so damn cocky and arrogant that the next year when we won the division, it was ho-hum — been there, done that. We were the first to do it but we don’t get credit for it … well, so what, big deal.

What’s the most memorable moment from the Packers-Bears rivalry during your 12 seasons?

A few stand out. In 1980, we went up to Green Bay and we were like the Partridge Family kind of defense — all different kinds of players. But we caused people problems. The Packers had to kick a field goal to win and we blocked it. It goes back into this little, twerp kicker’s hands — Chester Marcol, he had these black glasses with the athletic strap on it — and he takes off running like a rabbit and runs around the end and scores a touchdown. It was like a bomb went off. Freak play beats us (in overtime).

A few years later (1984) we had the Packers beat in Chicago. We called a blitz and Jeff Fisher, now the head coach of the Rams, comes off the corner untouched and hits the quarterback, and (QB) Rich Campbell shrugs him off and reaches up and slings it. Our cornerback, Terry Schmidt, had seen Fisher hit the quarterback and stopped, and Phillip Epps was like 30 yards behind him and they beat us.

They were so, so lucky.

And I remember the thug-o-rama game (1986) where they had the hit list on our guys. Charles Martin and all the other geniuses they had. It was a lot of fun. You play that game, you better drink two pots of coffee cause your head’s going to be on a swivel.

You were an imposing, physical player from one of the league’s toughest units. At the same time, you missed extensive time in your career because of knee injuries and you’ve seen in recent years what the game has done to a number of your former teammates. Are you happy with how today’s rules have protected players, or are you of the opinion the NFL has gone too soft?

You’ve got to take your medicine, and the game is taking its medicine. I’ve got a nine-year-old and he’s always telling me to put my seat belt on. I grew up in an era when nobody wore one. First thing you did when you bought your car was raise your seat up and put those things under the seat. Nobody put one on.

The game has transformed itself into a more sophisticated game. You can’t have those violent, bone-chilling hits that were a premium 30 years ago. When I got into the league it was a man’s game. You never came out. I see these fat asses now that play two plays and come out and drink water for two downs. We played every snap, every down.

But the game has changed. And it has to, quite honestly. When I was first inducted into the Hall of Fame I had the chance to meet John Mackey, and it wasn’t right. [Mackey suffered from frontotemporal dementia until his passing in 2011]. There’s a downside to the game. If they can take measures to eradicate the types of conditions that former players deal with, it’s a good thing.

And, hey, if you get to the quarterback in enough time, you can still tomahawk him pretty good. It’s still in the rules.

Talk about some of the work you’ve done in retirement helping former players in need.

The Gridiron Greats is a wonderful organization, started by my old coach, Mike Ditka. But, quite honestly, I’m not the guy handing out brochures. I go to functions, fundraisers and golf tournaments. It’s not hard work. I’m not breaking a sweat. But I am doing what they want me to, and doing what I can to help the former players who played this great game.

Bears and Packers, "Thursday Night Football": Care to make a prediction?

Last week, the Bears played great in a glorified fifth exhibition game. But I’ll tell you this, the Packers can’t run the ball, they can’t protect their quarterback, and they can’t cover anybody. The Bears need to frustrate Aaron Rodgers so he can’t get into a rhythm. That’s what the 49ers did, that’s the secret. Will the Bears be able to do it? I sure hope so, but Jim Harbaugh did us no favors by sticking a broom in that tiger’s cage.

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mikebeacom.