"I wasn't very big on the weight room when I first came in," said Hampton, who was a solid-if-not-chiseled 5-11, 215 pounds when the Giants selected him with the 24th pick in the 1990 draft out of Georgia.
Those Giants were a team that lived in strength-and-conditioning coach Johnny Parker's weight room, a place where Super Bowl MVP quarterback Phil Simms grunted dutifully alongside the thick-necked linemen. So there was some rightful skepticism when Hampton first arrived, his improper lifting form on display for all to see.
But those worrying that the Giants had drafted some kind of Mr. Softee had their fears allayed the very first time Hampton touched the ball in his first preseason game. All he did was race 89 yards for a touchdown against the Bills in Orchard Park. He would finish that game with 116 yards on seven carries.
"I was the first-round pick and I knew a lot of guys were watching me when I first came in," Hampton says. "Then my first carry is for 89 yards and all of a sudden they're saying, ‘This guy's OK.' "
Perhaps the player who most helped Hampton acclimate himself to professional football was Ottis Anderson. The veteran had rushed for 1,023 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1989, only to see the Giants draft his eventual replacement in the first round.
"Ottis was an older guy and we had several young guys in me, Lewis Tillman and David Meggett," Hampton says. "He helped everyone out (with things like) blitz pickups and terminology. When we were in college, we just ran. He helped us break things down."
The Giants were an adaptable team in 1990, switching quarterbacks and kickers during the season and blending in a variety of veteran castoffs such as Dave Duerson, Everson Walls, Johnie Cooks, Lawrence McGrew and Bob Mrosko at numerous positions. The running back slot was no different.
"We had running-back-by-committee," Hampton recalls. "Lewis was a slasher, O.J. was a bruiser, Meggett was a utility back, and me."
Hampton rushed for only 17 yards in his regular-season debut, but did catch a 12-yard TD pass from Phil Simms in the 27-20 victory over the Eagles. But a nagging ankle injury hampered Hampton, and as the weeks went by, he was becoming a seldom-used member of the committee. From Oct. 14 to Nov. 5, a span of four games, he carried the ball just one time for one yard.
Then on Nov. 11, with the Giants leading the Rams 10-7 in the third quarter in Anaheim, their 8-0 record threatened with a blemish, Hampton swept right for a 19-yard touchdown and a 31-7 rout was on.
Bill Parcells would use a healthier Hampton more as the season wore on. He rushed for 78 yards in the NFC East-clinching victory over the Vikings, setting up Anderson's three short TD runs, then pounded out 105 yards on 21 carries in the loss to the Bills that cost the Giants Simms. He finished the season strong with 49 yards and a TD at Phoenix and 43 yards at New England in the finale.
But just when it looked as if he were going to become the committee chairman as the most important part of the season approached, Hampton was gone. On his second carry of the NFC Divisional Playoff game vs. the Bears, which the Giants would win 31-3, "Refrigerator Perry fell on my leg," Hampton says. "When I got up, my leg was numb."
And his fibula was broken.
"O.J. went in to play and became the MVP of the Super Bowl," Hampton says. "Every time I see O.J., I remind him of that."
And perhaps now is the time to remind everyone that in his short eight-year career, Hampton rushed for 6,897 yards, shattering the Giants' all-time rushing record previously held by Joe Morris (5,296). Hampton's mark stood until Tiki Barber claimed it on the final day of the 2004 season.
Hampton, who finds it amusing that two of his 1990 teammates' sons – Chris Simms and Ran Carthon – are now playing in the NFL, was in town last week to pitch his eight-position Ultimate Athletics Thrust Away machine to a few New Jersey high schools. Even though he's still just 36 years old, he says he has no thoughts of pulling a Vinny Testaverde, who came back to play at 41.
"He can have it," Hampton says of the Jets QB.
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