SI Vault
Jill Lieber
October 09, 1989
Dan Hampton has been the soul of the Bears' defense for more than a decade because, whether on the field in Chicago or on the farm in Arkansas, he plays with all his heart
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October 09, 1989

Cool Hand Dan

Dan Hampton has been the soul of the Bears' defense for more than a decade because, whether on the field in Chicago or on the farm in Arkansas, he plays with all his heart

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The Razorbacks had been Robert's favorite team. "Dad won our first color TV in an office pool," says Dan. "He picked Arkansas in the '69 Sugar Bowl."

In some ways Mayton, who left teaching to open a lumberyard during Dan's senior year at Jacksonville, became a father figure to Hampton. He hired him during the summers. He scolded Dan for drag racing the lumberyard's 16-foot, two-ton delivery truck and then fired him for being repeatedly late to work. Still, they remained close. Before Dan's junior year at Arkansas, Mayton gave him some blunt advice: Build your stats and kick some butt, and you'll play in the NFL someday.

A year and a half later—after stepping on a scale for NFL scouts with a 10-pound weight hidden in his jockstrap to bring up to 254—Hampton became the Bears' first choice, and the fourth overall, in the 1979 draft. "The biggest problem anybody had with Dan was convincing him he was somebody special," Mayton says.

In the spring of '83, Dan and Terry, who had been living year-round in Chicago, moved back to Cabot. They bought a dilapidated dairy farm three miles from the house where Dan grew up. At first they settled into a shack near the barns. It had no electricity, the toilet had to be primed to flush, and a wood-burning stove was the only source of heat. "I'd live in a tepee to be in Arkansas," says Hampton.

That summer, with Mayton as the contractor, the Hamptons built a sprawling, white stucco, four-bedroom house, complete with a pool and a horseshoes pit in the backyard. The house sits behind an iron gate and has four giant columns across the front porch. Hampton lovingly calls the place Disgraceland. "The look Dan gets on his face tells me he's happy to be back in Arkansas," says Terry. "It's almost as if his face goes from a chiseled football look to a peaceful calm. The muscles loosen up when we get to the farm. [During the football season they live in a small condominium in suburban Chicago.] It feels good to Dan to know he has his own place, his own land, his own sanctuary. He feels protected there."

Says Dan, "I can hit golf balls in my underwear and no one will see me. There's something nice about walking down to my creek and watching the beavers build a dam or listening to the owls call back and forth to each other. I love this soil. I love this place. I've lived here all my life."

He spends most days in the off-season tending his cows, calves and a 2,100-pound bull named Sig. When Sig was smaller, he and Hampton used to wrestle. Now they just push each other around in a pen. Hampton cuts hay in his air-conditioned tractor with his Dalmatian, Nick the Weasel, beside him.

At the northern edge of the Hamptons' property is the Mt. Chapel church and cemetery. Someday, Hampton says, he will move his father's body there and eventually will be buried at his side. For now he visits Robert's grave in Sumner Cemetery, a couple of miles away. Terry knows how much her husband misses his father. "After a big game, early in his career, I woke up to the whole bed shaking," she says. "Dan was crying. I said, 'What's wrong?' And he said, 'It's just not fair that Daddy isn't here to see this.' If I could have killed myself and brought him back for 15 minutes, I would have."

At least once every off-season, after a Sunday dinner at his mother's place, Dan will pull out his dad's 1957 Les Paul guitar and hold a private jam session. Dan has always feared that he too will die young, so he has been preparing for that day.

"I believe in good," he says. "I believe in God. I believe my father was a terrific man. I've met hundreds of people who tell me what a good person he was. He had a loving wife, three healthy children. And he dies. Why? Where's the justice in that? If this guy was so terrific and he gets cancer, what chance do any of us have? Who's to say I'll last until I'm 33? Nothing will guarantee you a healthy, happy rest of your life."

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