The remarkable saga of Dave Hampton
Dave Hampton grew up in Akron, and he went to college in Wyoming. That life combination can lead to some crazy karma. You might not know that writer extraordinaire
Hampton was drafted by
On December 17, 1972, Atlanta was playing the Kansas City Chiefs, last game of the regular season, and there really wasn't anything on the line for either team. Except this: Dave Hampton had 930 yards coming into the game. That meant, of course, that he was 70 yards away from gaining 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. And it meant even more because Hampton had a chance to become the first 1,000-yard rusher in Atlanta Falcons history. This was in those days when NFL teams only played 14 regular season games, so 1,000 yard rushers were still rare birds. Most of the 53,850 who showed up were undoubtedly there, at least in part, to catch a little Dave Hampton history.
And all went pretty well early on. Hampton rushed for 42 yards in the first half, and the Falcons led going into the halftime. It looked like a lock. Hampton got the ball three straight times to start the second half, and ripped off another 22 yards. So he was six yards away.
The Chiefs, though, scored a touchdown to take the lead, and the Falcons kind of went away from Hampton for the rest of the quarter Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, they gave it to Hampton, and he rushed for five yards. One yard away. The next play, they gave him the ball up the middle, and he picked up the precious one yard, he was at exactly 1,000. Cheers! Celebration! They actually stopped the game right there so the crowd could cheer Dave Hampton. They gave him the game ball. I love when they stop games for really obscure achievements, like becoming the first player in Atlanta Falcons history to gain 1,000 yards. Then, you have to understand that in 1972, there had not been that many great sports moments in Atlanta. The day belonged to Dave Hampton.
But, of course, that would not be much of a story. You know what's coming. A little later in the quarter, Atlanta quarterback
"Right now," he told reporters, "it's the most disappointing thing that has ever happened to me."
OK, that's a real down. And that's a story many people have heard -- maybe you didn't know the name Dave Hampton, but you have probably heard the story of the guy who gained 1,000 yards and was then thrown for a loss. Great story, right? Well, as it turns out, the story HAS NOT EVEN STARTED yet.
In 1973, the Falcons -- led, poetically enough, by a quarterback named
So, in reality, there wasn't much on the line. Except this: Dave Hampton was, again, the team's go-to running back, and he was again close to 1,000 yards. And coach
Hampton came into the game needing 87 yards. Now, nobody was really paying much attention to Dave Hampton because that was the same day that
The Falcons gave the ball to Hampton. And gave the ball to him. And gave the ball to him some more. The game was close -- Atlanta had a 14-10 lead, and the Falcons were in field goal range ... but Van Brocklin said no, and they went for it on fourth down so they could give the ball to Hampton. They didn't make it. A little later, they were in range again -- still up only four points -- and they went for it again to give the ball to Hampton. They didn't make it. All in all, Hampton carried the ball 27 times on that day, a bunch in the fourth quarter.
And when everything settled, Dave Hampton had ... 997 yards rushing.
"I appreciate the heck out of my offensive line," he said after the game. "I'm very proud of them. But to be honest, I'm not really sure what my feelings are now."
OK, so there. Now you are sure the story is over. Twice this guy got within five yards of 1,000 yards. That's got to be it. Only it isn't. This story is better than
Only the game did not set up well. The game was close for a long time, and the Packers kept a slight lead, and so Hampton was not a big part of the offense. Then with two minutes and 53 seconds left and the Packers up by nine, Falcons coach
Hampton was still 28 yards short, and this was the last drive, so it would take something pretty special. He carried the ball up the middle for four -- he was 24 yards short. Then, he took a handoff to the right and his dear friend
The Green Bay crowd was into it ... heck, they had to be into something, both teams stunk. They cheered. The Falcons players on the sideline cheered. Fate cheered. The next play, Hampton carried it over the right side for four yards. He had done it. He had become both the first Atlanta Falcons runner to gain 1,000 yards AND the first Atlanta Falcons runner to finish the season with 1,000 yards. And make no mistake, his season was done. The Green Bay crowd gave him a standing ovation as he came off the field -- no way they were leaving Dave Hampton out there for even one more play. Knowing him, the quarterback would have fumbled, and Hampton would have fallen on it, the loss credited to him.
He had done it -- 1,002 yards rushing. Hampton was named the NFL's comeback player of the year in 1975, ostensibly for coming back from injuries, but no doubt it was more. He had come back from being one of the great victims in NFL history. Imagine