When one mentioned the name “Dan Hampton” in the 1980s, offensive linemen couldn’t help but cringe.
Hampton, one of the best defensive linemen in Chicago Bears franchise history, made offensive linemen cower in fear. His otherworldly strength commanded regular double teams to prevent him from stopping the ball carrier dead in his tracks.
Hampton, the fourth overall selection of the 1979 NFL Draft, blossomed under the guidance of Bears head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in the mid-1980s.
He was so good, both Ditka and Ryan thought Hampton set the bar high for defensive linemen back in the day.
Dan Hampton became a four-time Pro Bowler who helped “The Monsters of the Midway” average eleven wins per year from 1984 to 1990 and win Super Bowl XX during the pinnacle of their dominance in the 1980s decade.
Hampton eventually took his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH in the summer of 2002.
This is Dan Hampton’s incredible gridiron story.
Daniel Oliver “Dan” Hampton was born to parents Robert and Joan in Oklahoma City, OK on September 19, 1957. He has a sister, Linda, and a brother, Matt.
The Hampton family moved to Arkansas in 1962 when he was five years old. He spent the rest of his formative years in the Natural State.
According to Sports Illustrated‘s Jill Lieber, Robert Hampton worked as an IBM customer engineer to make ends meet. He dressed spiffily in a shirt and tie at the office and then changed into his straw hat and cutoffs when he got home in the afternoon.
Dan was a farm boy at heart. His family had a farm in rural Arkansas that featured two cows and a horse. The Hamptons baled hay, fed the animals with corn, and grew a massive vegetable garden in the 1960s.
Dan, who took a beating on the gridiron during his iconic twelve-year NFL career from 1979 to 1990, almost never played his first down after a near-fatal accident in 1969.
The twelve-year-old was climbing a huge elm tree, and when he grabbed onto a rotten branch, it snapped. Although he landed standing up, he fractured his left heel, right ankle, and left wrist.
Dan’s doctors thought his injuries could have been far worse. He was fortunate he had strong bones because of his regular intake of fresh cow’s milk, per Lieber.
Nevertheless, Dan had to use a wheelchair for the next five months. His dad, Robert, pushed him to learn the guitar to lift his spirits.
Once Dan got the hang of it, he and his dad—who played the electric guitar—sang various Country and Western tunes on their Arkansas farm. Dan had to use crutches for two months after he discarded his wheelchair.
Recovery and a Tragic Loss
Dan’s injuries did not deter him from trying out for his eighth-grade football team in the summer of 1970. He had previously played Pop Warner football when he was younger.
Dan could not keep up with the other boys. When they ran up the hills, he lagged behind because of the pain.
Although the coach asked Hampton to serve as the team’s water boy, he politely declined. He thought playing for the band was a better option.
Dan received some bad news four months later when he found out his dad had kidney cancer. Sadly, Robert Hampton passed away in the spring of 1971. He was just 38 years old.
Robert’s widow Joan used the $30,000 the family inherited from him to breed peacocks and St. Bernards. Unfortunately, both ventures eventually fizzled out.
Joan dug her heels in and found employment as a cook and waitress at a truck stop. She purchased jeans for a quarter each for Dan and his siblings.
Dan Hampton attended Jacksonville High School in Jacksonville, AR. He was an offensive and defensive lineman for the then-Jacksonville Red Devils (now known as the Jacksonville Titans). His head football coach was Bill Reed.
Dan was distraught about his family’s dire financial situation during his first years of high school. He did not get haircuts, skipped classes, and played guitar for his rock band “Sanctuary,” per Sports Illustrated.
Arkansas born and raised and Arkansas proud. Good to see Big Dan Hampton Today at TD Club !!!! pic.twitter.com/qq56rYJ9x4
— Steve Sullivan (@sully7777) September 16, 2019
Hampton, who was already 6’3″ and 200 pounds in high school, loved pranking his neighbors. He once placed a phony time bomb at a local pool hall just for kicks.
Fortunately, Ron Mayton intervened at the perfect time in Dan Hampton’s life.
A Mentor Reintroduces Him to Football
Mayton, a math teacher and one of Reed’s assistant coaches, asked Hampton to drop his marching band commitment and try out for football.
Dan, who was well aware of the Red Devils’ atrocious track record (the team had won just five games in four seasons), turned Mayton down repeatedly.
An undeterred Mayton told Hampton he would help him get a college scholarship if he tried out. Hampton agreed and made the team as a defensive end during his junior year in 1973.
Alas, Hampton struggled during his first year with the varsity squad. One of the reasons Reed benched him was his refusal to wear glasses.
When Hampton was on the field without his glasses, he grabbed all of the offensive players he could and tackled the guy who struggled the most. He figured that was the ball carrier.
Reed soon assigned Hampton to the right tackle position as his junior season progressed. Dan started on both sides of the ball as a senior in 1974. He eventually earned a football scholarship from the Arkansas Razorbacks that year.
It was a dream come true for Dan, who grew up following Razorbacks football. In fact, he even remembered his late father picking Arkansas in the 1969 Sugar Bowl. The Razorbacks prevailed over the Georgia Bulldogs, 16-2.
Although Mayton resigned to start his own lumberyard business in the mid-1970s, he and Dan remained close. He even hired Hampton to work for him in the summers.
Mayton reprimanded the mischievous Hampton once for drag-racing his delivery truck. He eventually fired Hampton, who had a habit of showing up late for work.
Disappointment and Encouragement
When Hampton entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002, he mentioned he was the first member of the Red Devils football team to earn All-American honors.
Hampton was eager to earn more accolades in his first awards banquet during his senior year in 1975. Full of anticipation, Dan sat in the first row expecting to bring home some trophies.
When Reed was about to announce the offensive lineman of the year, Dan thought he was going to call out his name.
To Hampton’s dismay, Reed announced Lee Monroe was the Red Devils’ top offensive lineman.
Undaunted, Dan felt he would earn top defensive lineman honors. Unfortunately, Reed handed the award to Rodney Jansen a few minutes later.
The highlight of the evening was the prestigious Red Devil Award. Dan felt the spotlight was finally going to shine on him.
Just as Reed was about to announce the winner, Hampton stood up. However, he did not get the nod. Fernando Weathers did.
To avoid embarrassment, Dan Hampton led the standing ovation for Weathers.
Several days later, Reed spoke with Hampton and explained to him why he’d decided to give the awards to his teammates. Reed felt Monroe, Jansen, and Weathers played just as hard as Hampton. However, he also felt their chances of getting a college degree were slim.
On the other hand, Reed thought Hampton had impressive, God-given abilities he could develop as he makes progress in his football career.
Reed’s instincts were spot on. Hampton put in the work and became a Pro Football Hall of Famer some twenty-seven years later.
For now, Dan Hampton was ready to emerge as one of the best defensive linemen in Arkansas Razorbacks football history.
College Days with the Arkansas Razorbacks
Dan Hampton attended the University of Arkansas from 1975 to 1978. He played for Arkansas Razorbacks football coaches Frank Broyles and Lou Holtz.
Just before Dan’s junior season at Arkansas kicked off in 1977, his former high school football coach, Ron Mayton, advised him to take his game to the next level so he could play in the National Football League someday, per Sports Illustrated.
Hampton listened and became a top-notch college defensive lineman. He began earning various accolades in the second half of his college football career.
Dan earned Second-Team All-SWC honors as a junior in 1977. His 98 tackles helped him earn SWC Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-SWC, and AFCA First-Team All-American honors as a senior in 1978.
Some NFL scouts left Arkansas unimpressed with Hampton’s time of 5.1 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his junior year.
I was 13 years old and I can still remember watching the 1978 Orange Bowl with my Dad. Arkansas shocked #2 Oklahoma 31-6! A ferocious Arkansas defense, led by defensive tackle Dan Hampton, built a 24–0 lead after three quarters. One of the greatest games in Hog history! #WPS pic.twitter.com/uaIoLINip7
— Brett B. Barker (@Brett_B_Barker) August 29, 2019
Hampton did not let that deter him. He hit the weights hard for three hours six times weekly. When the scouts returned for his senior year, he improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.8 seconds and his vertical jump to 31 inches.
Hampton finished his four-year stint in Fayetteville, AR with 239 tackles and six fumble recoveries.
With Hampton anchoring the Razorbacks’ defensive line from 1975 to 1978, they had an overall 35-10-2 record, He helped Arkansas win the 1975 Cotton Bowl and the 1977 Orange Bowl.
Dan Hampton was just getting started. He would eventually emerge as one of the best defensive linemen in Chicago Bears franchise history and NFL history.
Pro Football Career
The Chicago Bears made Dan Hampton the fourth overall selection of the 1979 NFL Draft.
Hampton played with legendary Bears running back Walter Payton for nine seasons from 1979 to 1987.
When Hampton earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 2002, he sang Payton’s praises.
Hampton thought the man nicknamed “Sweetness” had one of the biggest hearts of any person he had ever met.
That’s the reason Payton racked up 16.726 rushing yards—the second-most in NFL history behind Dallas Cowboys running back, Emmitt Smith—during his legendary thirteen-year pro football career.
“My God, how lucky was I to be a part of his career and his life,” Hampton said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2002.
Not only did Hampton play with one of the NFL’s greatest running backs for the first nine years of his NFL career, but he also made a good first impression on Bears fans.
Hampton had 70 combined tackles, 48 solo tackles, two fumble recoveries, and 2.0 sacks as a rookie in 1979.
Behind Hampton’s exploits on the defensive line, the Bears won ten games and reached the NFC Wild Card Game in 1979.
However, Chicago regressed in the final two years of the Neill Armstrong era from 1980 to 1981. The Bears averaged just seven wins per year during those two years and missed the postseason each time.
Chicago’s dismal performance prompted team owner George Halas to hire former Bears tight end Mike Ditka as his new head coach in 1982.
The Best Coaches
Hampton and the Bears struggled in Ditka’s first year on the job. They won just three games during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
Although Chicago experienced some lean years during the first half of Dan Hampton’s pro football career, he was grateful because he met some of the best coaches in the business.
In Hampton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2002, he mentioned his former defensive line coach Dale Haupt, who attended the induction ceremony in Canton, OH that year.
Hampton gave credit to Haupt for teaching him how to play on the defensive line at football’s highest level. He remembered Haupt telling him the best defensive linemen must make sacrifices for their teammates.
When the Bears played a road game against their division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, in the 1980s, Minnesota’s offensive linemen double-teamed Hampton for the majority of the game.
Before long, Hampton reached his boiling point. He let loose a few cuss words, grabbed Haupt by the throat, and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that was the last time he would play inside.
Haupt told Hampton he was no ordinary defensive lineman. He was a player who could do things on the defensive line that other players could not. However, utilizing that special skill set was far from easy.
Hampton took Haupt’s words to heart and continued wreaking havoc on the inside for the Bears in the 1980s. In Hampton’s opinion, Dale Haupt was one of the best coaches he ever worked with.
Time to Grow Up
Another coach who earned Hampton’s respect was former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.
Hampton and the mercurial Ryan shared their Oklahoma roots, so they hit it off from the get-go.
Hampton thought he played well as a Bears rookie in 1979. However, twenty-three years later, in his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech, he admitted that his ego grew bigger heading into his second pro football season in 1980.
Chicago squared off against Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers that year. The Steelers manhandled the Bears, 40-0. Hampton felt he was a liability in that particular game.
Tears welled up in Ryan’s eyes during the defensive team meeting the following morning. He called out Hampton and told him he’d thought the team could rely on him. Ryan said if Hampton did not play to the best of his abilities every week, the Bears were in big trouble, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Hampton let Ryan’s words sink in and slept fitfully for the next three days. During that critical moment in his NFL career, he realized there’s more to the game than just making a living. It’s more about men who care about winning at all costs.
With that, Dan Hampton gave Buddy Ryan props for helping him mature on and off the gridiron.
“Buddy Ryan, you made me a man by making me understand that I had to grow up and do what I had to do each and every week and become a true professional football player,” Hampton mentioned in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2002.
Hampton eventually became known as “Danimal.” His maturation and the Bears’ revamped core spelled trouble for the rest of the NFL in the mid-1980s.
Monsters of the Midway
Chicago boasted the likes of Hampton, Payton, quarterback Jim McMahon, strong safety Gary Fencik, defensive tackle Jim Osborne, defensive end Al Harris, defensive tackle Steve McMichael, defensive end Richard Dent, defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry, and linebacker Mike Singletary as the Ditka era evolved in the Windy City.
Hampton spent his entire 12-year career in Chicago and was part of the "Monsters Of The Midway" team that won Super Bowl XX. pic.twitter.com/OKPVmoN0zr
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) May 3, 2022
“The Monsters of the Midway” terrorized the opposition and produced one of the greatest stretches in Chicago Bears franchise history.
Chicago was a juggernaut in the latter years of Dan Hampton’s legendary pro football career.
The Bears averaged a gaudy eleven wins per season from 1984 to 1990. They made six postseason appearances and won six division titles during that memorable seven-year time frame.
Without a doubt, the pinnacle was beating the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. It was Chicago’s first Super Bowl title and first league title since the 1963 NFL season.
For his part, Dan Hampton earned his first and only Super Bowl ring in his twelve-year NFL career.
Hampton declined to meet members of the media after the Bears’ Super Bowl win. It was his way of protesting his teammates’ me-first attitudes.
“Everybody on the team was too busy with their own selves, who they were, how much airtime they got, rather than worrying about the team,” Hampton told Sports Illustrated in October 1989.
Hampton hit his stride as the 1980s decade progressed. He earned four Pro Bowl and four Second-Team All-Pro selections from 1982 to 1988. He also became a First-Team All-Pro selection in 1984.
When former Bears defensive lineman Ed O’Bradovich introduced Hampton into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2002, he stated that the latter’s otherworldly strength set him apart from other defensive linemen of his era.
Injuries Take Their Toll
Hampton constantly eluded double teams by running over opposing offensive linemen. He could stifle two offensive linemen—one in each hand—who had a combined weight of almost 600 pounds and thrust them more than five yards into their quarterback with relative ease.
Unfortunately, Hampton paid a hefty price for playing football.
He told Lieber he had fractured fifteen bones, received 300 stitches, and undergone eight knee surgeries by the time he entered his eleventh pro football season in 1989.
Hampton’s right knee had taken a massive pounding by that point in his career. Degenerative arthritis had taken its toll on that knee to the point Hampton had to go downstairs sideways with his left foot leading the way.
Hampton also had to improvise at home because of his aching back. He would lie on the floor in a supine position while propping his legs up on a chair whenever he watched television in his living room.
The pain in Hampton’s body was so unbearable, his first wife, Terry, occasionally had to put his clothes on for him.
All Hampton had to do was sit on the side of the bed, and Terry would know Dan was dropping a hint he could not dress himself.
Eight of Hampton’s fingers were already grossly misshapen and disfigured as the 1980s decade wound down. He also could not fully raise both of his hands.
Hampton, a musical virtuoso, could play the fiddle, organ, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, and alto sax when he was younger.
As the injuries piled up, Hampton could only play the alto sax and bass guitar without any issues, per Lieber.
One of the most gruesome injuries Hampton suffered was a torn ligament in his right ring finger during the 1983 NFL campaign.
Hampton requested Bears trainer, Fred Caito, to place that finger in a splint so he could play through it.
When Dan found out he might sit out the entire season if he underwent finger surgery, he demurred.
Consequently, the finger got infected. When Lieber interviewed Hampton in the fall of 1989, the finger swelled to almost three times its regular size.
Hampton admitted to Sports Illustrated the searing pain in his right ring finger persisted for a year and a half. It reached a point that he even considered having it amputated.
Through it all, Hampton played through pain not because he wanted to project a tough guy image.
Instead, he did it because he wanted to sacrifice for the greater good of his team—something his Bears defensive line coach, Dale Haupt, had taught him during the early years of his NFL career.
“There are a lot of guys in the NFL who go out and want to look pretty,” Hampton told Sports Illustrated in 1990. “They play the game when it’s easy. But it’s nice to know when you come into the locker room that you’ve played your guts out.”
Happy 63rd, "Danimal"!
DE-DT, #Bears 1979-90
• PFHOF (2002)
• Super Bowl XX Champion🏆
• First-Team All-Decade 1980s
• 4 Pro Bowls
• 5x All-Pro (1x First-Team)
• 1979 All-Rookie Team
• Versatile D-lineman, played all positions including the nose in Bears' '46' pic.twitter.com/pR80w73AMA
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) September 19, 2020
Although Hampton was banged up as his pro football career wound down, he still played with the heart of a lion.
Hampton was a one-man wrecking crew in the Bears’ 17-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1989 NFL season opener.
Hampton thwarted a 45-yard field goal attempt, tackled running back Ickey Woods in a crucial 4th-and-1 situation, sacked quarterback Boomer Esiason, and recorded a key pass breakup in the very next series.
It came as no surprise Hampton was the Bears’ highest-paid player that year. He earned $850,000 in his eleventh pro football season, per Lieber.
Time to Retire
Dan Hampton retired from pro football following the 1990 NFL season. He finished his twelve-year NFL career with 82.0 sacks, ten forced fumbles, and one safety.
Hampton won the George Halas Award—an accolade the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) gives to the most resilient football player amidst adversity—several months after he hung up his cleats.
Hampton’s retirement coincided with his divorce from his wife, Terry, in 1990.
Hampton was a vital cog of a Chicago Bears defense that dominated during the 1980s.
According to O’Bradovich, Chicago allowed the fewest rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, points, and total yards during Hampton’s legendary twelve-year pro football career from 1979 to 1990.
The Bears also averaged 3.6 sacks per game with Hampton on the defensive line. They led the NFL in sacks and limited the opposition to an average of 14 points per game when he wore Bears navy blue and orange for more than a decade.
On the flip side, Chicago averaged just 2.3 sacks per game without Hampton. Worse, they allowed their opponents to score 23 points per game without their Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
In the bigger scheme of things, the Bears won 75 percent of their games when Hampton suited up, per O’Bradovich. In sharp contrast, they mustered a paltry 33 percent winning percentage without him.
That, in a nutshell, was the “Danimal” difference.
At the time of Hampton’s retirement, he became just the second player in Chicago Bears franchise history to play in three different decades, per ProFootballHOF.com.
🥳 Happy Birthday 4x Pro Bowler, Super Bowl XX Champ, Hall of Famer & Bears great Dan Hampton! Drafted 4th overall in 1979, Dan was an immediate impact player being credited with 70 tackles, 48 solo, 2 fumble recoveries & 2 sacks his rookie year. #Bears100 #DaBears #Danimal pic.twitter.com/NgeRYPXdj7
— 80s Football Cards 🏈 🙌 (@80sFootballCard) September 19, 2019
In former Bears head coach Mike Ditka’s opinion, Dan Hampton deserved a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH.
“Dan is a definite Hall of Famer,” Ditka told Lieber in 1990. “He rates up there with the very best.”
One of the Best
Buddy Ryan, Hampton’s defensive coordinator with the Bears, seconded Ditka’s assessment. Ryan thought Hampton was the best defensive tackle he had ever coached.
Ryan also considered Hampton his hero because he played with more heart than anybody on the defensive line.
Dan Hampton wasn’t just a gridiron warrior who played his guts out every Sunday. He was also one of the most imposing defensive linemen of his era.
An NFL scout told Lieber that game films show offensive linemen dreading the thought of lining up against the Bears Pro Bowler. His rolled-up sleeves revealed massive biceps in frigid, below-zero weather conditions that intimidated the opposition.
Hampton spent his offseasons at his farm in Cabot, AR. His first wife, Terry, told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1990 that he considered breeding farm animals therapeutic.
Dan Hampton and his wife, Gina, currently reside in the Winfield, IN area with their daughter, Dakota.
Dan Hampton entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH in the summer of 2002. Legendary Chicago Bears defensive end Ed O’Bradovich was his presenter.
According to O’Bradovich, Hampton was one of the few players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played both defensive tackle and defensive end during their respective careers. Better yet, Hampton earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors playing both positions.
Part of Hampton’s enshrinement speech reads:
“You know, the great thing about football is it’s a special game played by special people. Because you have to learn to love each other, to be committed to each other, to sacrifice for each other. And, my God, how lucky was I to play with the players and coaches that I did.”
Dan Hampton is also a member of the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Hampton’s musical roots, which began in rural Arkansas in the 1960s, are alive and kicking to the present day.
Hampton and his former Chicago Bears teammates Otis Wilson and Steve McMichael formed the band “Chicago 6” in 2013.
An Indiana judge gave Hampton one year of probation after he pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges in January 2022.
A police officer pulled Hampton over after his speed radar clocked his vehicle at 68 mph in a 40 mph zone. Tests later revealed Hampton’s blood alcohol level was .189, which is more than twice Indiana’s legal limit of .08.
Hampton has a lengthy drunk driving track record. Police also arrested him for DUI in 1988, 1996, 1997, and 2002, per the Chicago Tribune.
Dan Hampton is currently one of the co-hosts of the Pro Football Weekly television show. He also co-hosts WGN Radio’s The Hamp & O’B Show with his Pro Football Hall of Fame presenter, Ed O’ Bradovich.