In 1990, Giants’ career rushing leader Joe Morris was no longer the starting RB and dealing with injuries. The club had brought in O.J. Anderson who was now the starter with Maurice Carthon his blocking fullback, plus George Adams, Lee Rouson and second-year player Dave Meggett as backups. Anderson was 32-years old while Adams was supposed to be the back of the future yet had failed to crack the starting lineup. The Giants needed some fresh legs. And so, with the 24th pick in the NFL draft, the franchise selected Rodney Hampton from Georgia.
Anderson was still the man at RB and Morris had little chance to see the field still. Adams, a former Giants first-round pick himself, was now playing for New England. And suddenly, the club had a stud in the wheelhouse being groomed.
Hampton played quite a bit during his rookie season, and then broke his leg trying to recover a Jeff Hostetler fumble in the playoffs against the Bears, a 31-3 victory. While the Giants were taking Super Bowl 25, Hampton was now a hobbled cheering bystander. In his sophomore season, he had supplanted Anderson as the starter and gained 1,059 yards with 10 touchdowns.
In 1996, the San Francisco 49ers signed Hampton to an offer sheet; one that the 49ers’ brass assumed was much more than the Giants would otherwise have paid their star running back. With uncharacteristic lighting speed, the Giants thwarted that attempt and signed him to a new six-year $16.45 million contract with a $3.6 million signing bonus.
The Giants were the only team Hampton ever played for in the NFL - a rare trait. For his career, he gained 6,897 yards on 1,824 carries, a 3.8 average, 49 TDs, 1,309 receiving yards with another two touchdowns. He eventually broke the Giants career rushing record that was held by Joe Morris. Since then, Tiki Barber has eclipsed Hampton.
Hampton now lives in Houston, Texas. He is part of a huge family business, does some endorsements and occasionally a trading card signing show. Big Blue View sat down with Rodney to see what he remembers most while with the Giants, his current career, his charity which helps children and teenagers, and the importance of aluminum foil in your life.
BBV: You were also an accomplished basketball player in high school along with your best friends Jarrett Scales and Derrick Jones. Why did you choose football over basketball?
HAMPTON: I stopped playing football after my freshman year because I had a chance to play on the varsity squad in basketball, which I did. But the next year I picked football over basketball because my brother Randy told me I had a better chance in football. Plus, my Godfather Mr. Scales (Jarrett’s dad), told me to get my ass back on the football field. It worked out.
BBV: Having played in the state of Texas, you chose the University of Georgia instead of staying closer to home. Did you choose Georgia because of their reputation of cranking out premier NFL running backs like Herschel Walker and Charles Trippi?
HAMPTON: Georgia was not my first choice. I’m a big Eric Dickerson fan and wanted to go to SMU. They got hit by the NCAA and the program was shut-down. From there I saw that Georgia had a senior running back (Lars Tate) and I thought I had a chance to play as a true freshman.
BBV: What happened to your Georgia Bulldogs in the second half of last year’s national championship game?
HAMPTON: I guess it just wasn’t our time last year to win. But I do like the direction the Dawgs are going in.
BBV: You were drafted in the first round by the Giants, but head coach Bill Parcells lobbied very hard for the team to draft linebacker Darrian Conner instead. Did he ever treat you like his second choice?
HAMPTON: I heard Coach wanted to go defense in the first-round. And you know that defense wins championships shit. But after my first carry in the NFL and I went 89-yards for a touchdown, he was okay after that play.
BBV: O.J. Anderson was the starting running back when you arrived at training camp. Did he act like you were there to take his job, or was he helpful to train you for the pro game?
HAMPTON: O.J. was older at the time and knew it was time to pass the ball to the younger backs. To be honest, it was between O.J. and Joe Morris to see who was going to look out after us young backs.
BBV: What was an NFL training camp like compared to the summer preparing for a season while at Georgia?
HAMPTON: Training camp in Georgia was hot, but I’m from Texas so I was used to the heat. No problem.
BBV: You broke your leg in your very first playoff game chasing down a fumble. What do you remember about the play and what happened to make you injured?
HAMPTON: I just remember my leg having no feeling in it after “the Fridge” landed on me.
BBV: You played quite a bit considering you were a rookie in a time that most teams didn’t allow their rookies to get much playing time. What was it like being hurt yet still a member of the team knowing you can’t play?
HAMPTON: You can’t control getting injured, but I felt I was still part of the team having over 1,000 all-purpose yards. But the next year I was also banged up alot and missed some games, but thanks to (linebacker) Pepper Johnson he helped my career. He told me I had to play thru most of the injuries. My locker was next to his so I just watched him and learned. The last game of the season after missing four games, I needed 89-yards against the Houston Oilers to break 1,000 yards. Pep told me his defense was going to keep the Oilers offense off the field. When we had the ball, Pep was up on the sidelines helping me what I needed to hear when I came off the field. I finished with 140-yards. After that I ended up rushing for 1,000-yards five straight seasons. Without Pep’s encouragement and advice, I didn’t think I could make it three years in the league.
BBV: The Giants went on and won Super Bowl 25. What do you remember most about that experience?
HAMPTON: Just (Scott) Norwood wide right.
BBV: Kicker Scott Norwood is sent out to try to win the game. Where were you when the Bills lined up for that field goal attempt, and did you watch the play?
HAMPTON: I was standing on crutches, and then jumping up-and-down on one leg when he missed.
BBV: You spent quite a bit of time with linebacker Pepper Johnson. Most folks would think it was odd for an offensive guy to hang with a defensive dude.
HAMPTON: It all started when I would have small injuries and have to sit out. He told me that there were lots of good players who lost their jobs because they would never get back on the field, and that I had to work thru the pain and play hurt. He told me to “man-up” so I did. He was also single and most guys on the team were married and had families to get to after practices and games, so we would go off and do stuff. He is a great person who really got me over the hump. He also did a charity basketball game back in his hometown of Detroit and got me interested in doing charity work, too.
BBV: 1992 was your best season with 1,141 yards and an incredible 14 TDs. Your thoughts?
HAMPTON: I was starting my first season and just had to fight the injuries to get in a full season. That year was all because of my O-Line.
BBV: That offensive line you had Bart Oates at center, William Roberts and Eric Moore at the guard positions, and Doug Riesenberg plus Jumbo Elliott at tackle. As a running back, how blessed were you?
HAMPTON: I was blessed to have good offensive linemen. I always told them how much I thought about them and always gave them a Christmas gift. The running game only goes how the offensive line goes.
BBV: Maurice Carthon left after the 1991 season and was replaced with the younger Jarrod Bunch. What was the difference between the two fullbacks?
HAMPTON: Mo was the leader of the running backs room and would put us in our place. Probably one of the best fullbacks to open up holes - ever. Bunch was a running back made to be a fullback and the coach wanted him to run over everybody.
BBV: You had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with a ton of carries each of those years, yet you weren’t used much in the passing game. What was the reason for that?
HAMPTON: My first season I had my most receptions. But we had Dave Meggett already on the roster and when he came around as a player he eventually would come in on third downs quite a bit. He was one of the NFL’s best third-down backs.
BBV: You broke the Giants’ career rushing franchise record previously held by Joe Morris. Did you speak to Joe prior to the week you might take over his record?
HAMPTON: No, I didn’t speak to anyone. Records get broken all the time.
BBV: How close were you to almost becoming a San Francisco 49er in 1996?
HAMPTON: I was real close to becoming a Niner.
BBV: Did you feel that your agent, Ralph Cindrich, pushed you towards San Francisco or was his dealings more of a ploy to get you a better contract to stay with the Giants?
HAMPTON: I told Ralph I wanted to be a Giant and loved New York and New Jersey. In order for me stay with the Giants they had to match the contract and also pay me $1 million to work out doing the off-season. I am thankful that the Giants matched it. I did not want to leave.
BBV: Your name seems to be the most obvious former player who is not listed in the Giants Ring of Honor. Any talk from the team on you being inserted one day?
HAMPTON: If it happens it happens, but that doesn’t bother me. There are so many others that belong to go in before me. I just enjoy life and lots of things that start with the letter “F”: Faith, family, friends, fun, food and foil - to take and wrap up the food we don’t eat LOL. Or we go down to Jarrett Scales’ Bar-B-Q place called “Triple J’s Smokehouse” and then we don’t need foil.
BBV: Except for the huge contracts given out today, how is the game different since you played in the NFL?
HAMPTON: Today’s game is more of a passing game.
BBV: How did you get started in organizing “Hamps Camps” for youths?
HAMPTON: My lovely wife Detra helped me get it started and organize it in 2006. But, we had been doing camps and working in the community since 1990 mainly in Newark and Paterson, New Jersey.
BBV: Why do you feel a need to give back to your community?
HAMPTON: Just giving back is the right thing to do. I had lots of people help me growing up - coaches, teachers, friends, family and many others. It’s just the right thing to do. You never know whose life you might change.
BBV: You went into business with your dad and have since built one of the largest bail bond operations in Houston. What got you into this line of work?
HAMPTON: My dad Lee Hampton started “A Better Bail Bonds” in 1989 and is a family business. Since then my brothers and sisters have helped him to run five locations in Houston with the great help of Kim Porter who is the manager of all locations. My brothers Kelvin and Randy work there along with my sister Angela. And my other sister Debbie does all the financial business just as she did for me when I played for the Giants. The best thing about it is we been around over 30-years serving in the community.
BBV: Going back to high school, your right knee has given you issues. Why did you eventually decide to have it replaced, and what advice would you give to someone who is considering having this operation?
HAMPTON: This knee had a long road, but we made it. I had it replaced four years ago. You will know when it’s time to get it replaced and trust me, it is the thing to do.
BBV: What do you miss most about being a player for the Giants?
HAMPTON: Just miss hanging out with your teammates. It was a brotherhood thing - can’t explain it.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association