Dan Hampton (continued)

Dan Hampton (continued)

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The following season, an even stronger, more confident Hampton emerged. The sophomore defensive lineman led the Bears' in sacks with 11.5 and his 73 tackles were the most by a Bears lineman. His dominating play earned him the first of his four Pro Bowl invitations as well as All-NFC honors as a defensive end. In 1981, it was pretty much the same story as "Danimal" continued to wreak havoc on opposing ball handlers, this time from both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions. His nine quarterback sacks were again a team high.

In the nine-game strike-shortened 1982 season, Hampton, played exclusively at right defensive end and again led the Bears with 9 sacks and was second with 71 tackles. One major publication selected him as the NFC Defensive Most Valuable Player. He was also named to his first All-Pro team.

Injuries slowed Hampton in 1983, but he still managed to record five sacks in just 11 games. The following season, although he missed one game with a hyper-extended knee, he equaled his career best 11.5 sack mark.

It is for the 1985 season, however, that Dan and the Bears' defense is best remembered. For his part, Hampton spent the first half of the season playing right tackle before moving over to the left defensive end spot for the remainder of the season. His non-stop aggressive style of play caused opposing offenses to assign extra blockers ultimately freeing up other Bears defenders to make plays. Even with the added attention, Dan still managed to record 6.5 sacks, force two fumbles, recover three fumbles, and defense four passes.

Overall, the stingy Bears defense allowed just 198 points and shut out both opponents in the NFC playoff games. Chicago went on to destroy the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX, allowing just 123 total yards and sacking Patriot quarterbacks seven times.

"Maybe 20 or 30 years from now when people talk about the great defenses of all time, I think surely people will put us on that list, maybe with the Steelers or the Cowboys of the 70's or 80's," Hampton reflected. "I think that a lot of people have said that the defense of that season, was one of the most dominant ones ever fielded. So, sure there was a lot of pride at being a part of that. The great thing about it," he continued, "was it was a feeling of responsibility, we knew that we had to play great and tried to play great every week because in order to win the championship you had to be ready each and every game."
Obviously, Hampton and his teammates were "ready" as the team posted a near perfect 15-1 regular season record and the one-sided Super Bowl win.

Although 1985 may have been a high point in his career, Dan played at a consistently high level throughout his tenure with the Bears. In 1986, he turned in another All-Pro season that included an amazing single-game performance against the Green Bay Packers. In that game, Hampton was a one-man wrecking crew as he accounted for seven tackles, three sacks, and a safety. Even his teammates, who presented him with the game ball, were awestruck.

Ironically it was against the Packers the following season, that Dan suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for three games. Still, he managed to record 3.5 sacks in just eight games in the strike-shortened season. Adding to his résumé that year, he also blocked two field goals, including one against the Kansas City Chiefs in a two-point victory.

After playing both defensive end and defensive tackle in 1987, Hampton settled in exclusively at the right defensive tackle spot in 1988. Again he earned All-Pro and All-NFC honors, posting 10 sacks and 88 tackles, including 12 in a single game against the Patriots.

Dan's willingness to shift from one defensive position to another without question or complaint caused one reporter to wonder in print, "Had he stayed at one position, who knows how many Pro Bowls he might have made?"

Although Dan had many statistically outstanding seasons and single-game performances, he always contended that numbers and individual honors per se weren't important to him. "That doesn't wind my clock," he offered. More important, he contended were the games, "where we went in against great odds and adversity and won."


Always a leader on the field, in the locker room, and in the huddle, Hampton was in many ways, a throwback to another era. "One of the greatest compliments I was given," he once recalled, "was after a number of years I got to know Dick Butkus and Ed O'Bradovich and one night they said, 'You could have played with us. You're one of our kind of players.' That really made me feel good."

Hampton, who became just the second Bear to play in three different decades, was the consummate team player. He gave it his all on every play, often to the detriment of his body. During his career he endured 10 operations, five on each knee, as well as countless other "minor" injuries.

"I was dealt a hand," he reflected after his final season. "I tried to play that hand as long and as hard as I could…I didn't mind because I enjoyed doing what I did so much that I really wanted to try and come back and be more successful each time I got hurt. I think there was a lot of good luck. But I also think that the good Lord gave me a very resilient body. I don't know if a lot of people would have done it or could have done it. It just never seemed to be that tough of a deal for me. The only thing that I regret is the fact that I couldn't have done more each year. I always wanted to be one of the guys that was making it happen…But somehow things worked out alright, and for 12 years, I don't think I did too bad."

Apparently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Board of Selectors didn't think he "did too bad" either. On February 2, 2002 they rewarded the Bears lineman for his outstanding play and dedication to the game with his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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