"We used to wheel him out onto the front porch, so he could watch the men pave the road in front of the house," says Joan. "Robert would take him for a wheelbarrow ride around the yard every now and then."
Robert was particularly sensitive to Dan's plight. Though all but two of Dan's left fingers were in a cast, Robert encouraged him to play the guitar, and he helped Dan learn to play songs from the television show Hee Haw and the radio. Sometimes Robert would grab his Les Paul electric guitar and accompany Dan in country-and-western duets. He even made Dan a metronome out of a voltmeter.
After the casts were removed, Dan hobbled on crutches for another two months. "I was crippled," he says. "My legs really hurt, and my feet were swollen. I could barely find shoes to fit. It hurt to walk a block with the crutches."
When he discarded the crutches, he limped for several more weeks. By late August of the year after his fall, Dan felt good enough to try out for the eighth-grade football team. Before the accident, he had been a star tailback in the local Pop Warner League, but now one practice was too much. "Running up hills was a new experience in pain," he says. The coach offered him the position of water boy, but Dan chose to play in the band instead.
Dan's life was just coming back together when, a few days before Christmas, 1970, he learned that his father had kidney cancer. "I always felt deep in my heart he wasn't going to die," says Dan. "But by February you could tell he wasn't doing good. He couldn't get out of bed. So we watched TV together and talked. It was hard for me to be around him. I loved him so much."
Robert died in April, at the age of 38. He left the family about $30,000 in savings and insurance, which Joan invested in raising peacocks and Saint Bernards, because she had always been fond of both. Neither venture panned out, and within two years the Hamptons were almost penniless. Joan went to work as a waitress and cook at a truck stop six days a week. She bought the children jeans for a quarter at garage sales and secondhand shoes that were sometimes two sizes too small.
Dan felt lost. Shy and gawky, he had thick, black-rimmed glasses, which he was too embarrassed to put on in class. He grew his hair long, started a rock band named Sanctuary and skipped a lot of school, missing 30 days in his sophomore year at Jacksonville High. He terrorized neighbors with pranks. Once he planted a fake time bomb outside Lon's pool hall in Cabot; another time he put burning dummies in the middle of Highway 89. Joan had little control over him. "How do you spank somebody who's 6'3", 200 pounds?" Hampton says.
Ron Mayton, a math teacher and assistant football coach at Jacksonville High, took an interest in Dan. Mayton, too, had grown up poor. He urged Dan to quit the marching band and to try out for the football team, which had won only five games in four years. For months Dan resisted Mayton's pleas. "Dan said, 'Nobody likes athletes, and the team isn't any good,' " recalls Mayton. So he made Dan a promise: "If you come out, I'll help you get a college scholarship."
Dan joined the team his junior year and played defensive end. He floundered and was benched, in part because he refused to wear his glasses. "I pulled Dan out of a game and said, 'Can you see what's going on? Can you see the football?' " says Mayton. "He said no. So I said, 'How do you decide who to tackle?' He said, 'I grab them all, and the one who keeps struggling is the guy with the ball. I bring him down.' "
Still declining to wear glasses, Dan was moved to right offensive tackle and played well. "By the end of the year he had begun to gain confidence," says Mayton. "He would block three people at once—tackle, noseguard and linebacker—by just running straight ahead and spreading his arms." As a senior Dan started at defensive and offensive tackle and earned a football scholarship to Arkansas. In his freshman year at Fayetteville, he finally started wearing contact lenses.