Penn State and the University of Georgia are college football powerhouses. They are known for breeding quality running backs which go on to exceptional careers in the NFL.
Herschel Walker, Sony Michel, Todd Gurley, Charley Trippi, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, Tim Worley, Nick Chubb, Knowshon Moreno and D’Andre Swift.
Plus Rodney Hampton of the New York Football Giants.
After an illustrious career with the Giants, Hampton will be enshrined into the Giants Ring of Honor at halftime during the Sept. 26 game at home against division rival Dallas.
Hampton will have company on this night. Other players selected to receive the franchise’s highest honor include RB O.J. Anderson, DE Leonard Marshall, DB Jimmy Patton, RB Joe Morris, and RB/WR Kyle Rote. In addition, Senior Vice President of Medical Services Ronnie Barnes, who has been with the team for 47 years, will also be inducted.
Always a Giant
That Super Bowl is one of the most memorable for fans. It was played in the midst of the Gulf War. Security was at an all-time high as NFL officials were weary that the Taliban would be a threat during one of the most watched television shows. Singer Whitney Houston sang what is described as the most inspiring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in Super Bowl history. Instead of showing the halftime show, ABC News gave a progress report on the war effort instead.
Hampton played quite a bit considering he was a rookie in a time when most teams didn’t allow their rookies to get much playing time. Then he broke his leg in the Giants’ 31-3 victory in the first playoff game against Chicago. Ultimately, this meant he couldn’t play in the Super Bowl in a game that featured Anderson — who would be named the game’s MVP.
“I 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 a lot and missed some games, but thanks to Pepper Johnson he helped my career,” Hampton stated. “Pep 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 4 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.”
And now he is being honored at the same time with Anderson, a player he was destined to replace.
Hampton’s career included 6,897 rushing yards on 1,824 attempts with 49 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry. In addition, he was a valuable receiver with 174 receptions for 1,309 yards and an additional two scores. He started 85 contests and had five straight seasons where he topped 1,000 yards.
His total rushing yards were the most in a single career with New York until Tiki Barber surpassed his mark in 2004.
Despite playing in the height of free agency, Hampton played his entire career with the Giants which is almost an anomaly. Now, he is being enshrined along with what is considered the greatest players to ever wear a blue uniform.
A surprise moment
How Hampton found out that he had been selected to be included into the Ring of Honor was the genius of stealthiness by the Giants themselves.
“The Giants had invited me, O.J., Joe Morris and Leonard to the practice facility one day. We were supposed to talk to this year’s team before their first game,” Hampton explained. “That is what they told us. But then John Mara told us in front of the team that we were all being inducted into the Ring of Honor during the Monday night game against the Cowboys. We thought we were there to inspire this year’s team, but they actually had us there to surprise us at the end of practice.”
The current array of players practicing had already been clued into the event. After Mara made the announcement, the current roster erupted into applause and cheers.
Since guys like Hampton played in the 1990s, did this year’s roster even knew who he was?
“They knew of us,” offered Hampton. “It reminded me of when I was new and we would have a former veteran or two show up, I would have to do my homework and see what kind of player they were and what they were about. I’m sure these players did the same thing.”
The Giants Ring of Honor will now include 50 players, coaches and executives.
Except for Rote, Patton and Barnes, this class features yet another strong group of players who were active during those successful years in the mid-1980s and into 1990. Those squads captured two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990 under head coach Bill Parcells.
Along with Hampton, Morris, Anderson and Marshall who played in that era, Ring of Honor participants who have already been enshrined from those rosters include Parcells, Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, George Martin, Harry Carson, Mark Bavaro and Carl Banks. In addition, GM George Young and owner Wellington Mara have been enshrined.
This means that this single period of Giants history accounts for 26 percent of the Ring of Honor, which signifies just how great those rosters actually were.
“We had a lot of talent, a lot more deserving than me. And we were well-coached,” said Hampton. “I tell people when I came to the team it was already a really great roster. A lot of veteran talent that I was able to be surrounded by. And we were two deep at most positions.”
It has been said that Hampton and Rote were locks for this honor. The question may be why did it take the powers that be so long to finally pull the trigger and include them?
“I don’t know. I didn’t have any control of this process but had the mindset that if it happens - it happens. But that didn’t bother me,” Hampton said. “I didn’t sweat it, I didn’t worry about it. But they called my name and I’m happy along with my family and friends.”
The fact that Hampton even came to New York was something of an internal conflict
In 1989 the Giants went 12-4-0 and won the NFC East title. They then were shocked with a 19-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round. Anderson was the starting running back with Maurice Carthon the fullback. Other backs on the roster included George Adams, Dave Meggett, Lee Rouson and Lewis Tillman.
With such a good record the season before, this placed the Giants pretty high in the draft order for the 1990 NFL draft and owned the 24th slot in the first round. The crosstown Jets selected running back Blair Thomas of Penn State with the second overall pick. Other running backs taken were Florida’s Emmitt Smith with the 17th pick while Darrell Thompson and Steve Broussard went 19th and 20th to Green Bay and Atlanta, respectively.
At this point of the draft, seven linebackers had been selected. When the Giants went on the clock at No. 24, Parcells wanted that number to become eight.
He coveted linebacker Darion Conner of Jackson State. Playing a 3-4 defensive scheme, the starting linebackers were LT, Banks, Gary Reasons and Johnie Cooks while the backups were LaSalle Harper, Pepper Johnson and Ricky Shaw. Being a defensive mind, Parcells considered the linebacker position a point of strength for the franchise.
There was a tug-of-war that developed between Parcells and GM George Young.
“Coach really wanted the linebacker from Jackson State. I’m glad that George Young took me anyway. After I went 89 yards for a touchdown on my first NFL carry Coach was good,” added Hampton. “Will Coach Parcells say anything to me about the Ring of Honor? All I know is that I proved that George Young was right.”
Hampton is looking forward to his special night.
“I am happy and blessed to be going in with lots of emotion as well. It will be a great night,” Hampton concluded. “I retired in 1997 and my oldest was only three. Just being there in that big stadium with my children and all the fans, that will be special for them as well as for me.”
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association