HALL OF FAME '02: Unanticipated Trip To Canton For Hampton

By CASEY LAUGHMAN, Associated Press Writer

Dan Hampton knew little about football growing up. And even when he was a dominating defensive lineman at Arkansas, he didn't think much about turning pro.

"I never got in this game for any other reason but to help my buddies," Hampton said. "I didn't play football until the 11th grade, I never thought about college. I was offered a scholarship and we were real poor and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity."

He's still amazed that he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, the 26th Chicago Bear to be enshrined.

"I'd never seen an NFL game in person," Hampton said. "'Monday Night Football,' I'd watch it a little, but I didn't care about it. I thought college football was the thing.

"Guys would ask me, 'Did you see Earl Campbell run over Isaiah Robertson?' No, I saw him run over us the year before."

While Hampton might not have been thinking about the pros, his future coach was.

Mike Ditka, who knows a thing or two about hard-nosed football players, was with the Dallas Cowboys when Hampton was drafted No. 4 overall in 1979.

"I watched Dan when he came out of Arkansas," Ditka said. "I remember coach (Tom) Landry saying what a great football player he was going to be."

Ditka, who coached the Bears when Hampton was playing, noted that Hampton was the key defensive lineman on the 1985 Super Bowl champions, although he was less publicized than two of his linemates -- Richard Dent and William "Refrigerator" Perry.

"A lot of times in football, it's not so much the stat, but how you play the game," Ditka said. "If that's the measuring stick, then he played the game as well as anybody."

When he was drafted by the Bears in 1979, Hampton knew he was becoming part of tradition that started with Bronco Nagurski and ran through the likes of Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton.

One thing Hampton did know about Chicago was that it was cold.

"I thought, 'Why couldn't I go to Miami or LA, somewhere warm, on the water and have a boat.' Instead, I had to come up here and buy a snowblower," Hampton said.

He also got a Super Bowl ring and a spot in the Hall of Fame.

"I didn't realize I was coming to the Mecca of football," Hampton said.

Hampton also didn't realize that high first-round picks generally don't have to worry about job security their first year.

"I thought I had to be in the best shape of my life because I didn't want to get cut," Hampton said with a laugh.

Hampton was a quick learner, becoming one of the best defensive linemen in football in short order. The man who would become known as 'Danimal' had 70 tackles as a rookie and led the team his second year with 11½ sacks.

And as the Bears slowly built themselves into a dominating presence that rampaged through the league in 1985, Hampton was the constant. He and safety Gary Fencik rode herd on the defense, instilling an attitude that they didn't need a powerful offense because the other team would not score.

The Yale-educated Fencik and the rowdy, Arkansas-bred Hampton seemed to be an odd couple to be leading the Bears' "46" defense, which was conceived by Buddy Ryan. Hampton said the unit was like family.

"We had such a close affinity for each other, we took everything personally," Hampton said. "Anybody took a shot at one of our guys, we would systematically try to drop them. We wanted to be so dominant that if they don't score, we can't lose."

Hampton led by example, playing through injuries and always playing hard.

The Bears defense was at its best in 1985 as the team rolled to an 18-1 record, allowing a league-low 198 points and shutting out the Giants and Rams in the NFC playoffs.

The defense wanted a shutout in the Super Bowl, too, but the New England Patriots scored 10 points. The Bears scored 46.

Were the Bears defenders disappointed that they let the Patriots score?

"Extremely," Hampton said. "My dear friend Walter (Payton) got a bad handoff and he fumbled. Next thing you know, it's 1st and 10 on the 20. After three plays they kicked a field goal from 35 yards.

"But you're carping about the peanuts on the sundae. Overall, it was a hell of a ride."

Hampton doesn't care much for the pageantry of the Hall of Fame inductions; he said that he'd rather watch it on TV. But getting the call meant the world to him.

"I thought I had a good chance, but the morning they called, I was stunned," Hampton said.

Ditka was delighted.

"He belongs in there," Ditka said. "I'm so happy for Dan. I'm sure it's something that he's thought about for a long time."

Now he can stop thinking about it and start enjoying it.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)