Penn State and the University of Georgia are college football powerhouses. They are known for producing quality running backs who go on to exceptional careers in the NFL.
Herschel Walker, Sony Michel, Todd Gurley, Charlie Trippi, Garrison Hurst, Terrell Davis, Tim Worley, Nick Chubb, Knoshon Moreno and D’Andre Swift.
Plus Rodney Hampton of the New York Football Giants.
After his stellar career with the Giants, Hampton will be honored with a Giant Ring at halftime of the Sept. 26 home game against division rival Dallas.
Will be next to Hampton tonight. Other players selected to receive the franchise’s top honor include RB OJ 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 brought on board.
Hampton played eight seasons for the Giants. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1992 and 1993 and was part of the Super Bowl XXV winning team in Tampa following the 1990 season.
That Super Bowl is one of the most memorable for fans. It was played in the middle of the Gulf War. Security was at an all-time high as NFL officials fretted that the Taliban would be a threat during one of the most-watched televised shows. Singer Whitney Houston performed what has been described as the most inspirational rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in Super Bowl history. Instead of airing the halftime show, ABC News instead gave a progress report on the war effort.
Hampton played quite a bit considering he was a rookie in an era when most teams didn’t allow their rookies to get much playing time. Then he broke his leg in the Giants’ 31–3 win in the first playoff game against Chicago. Ultimately, that meant he wouldn’t be able to play in the Super Bowl in the game Anderson was in — he would be named the game’s MVP.
“I can’t control the injury, but I still felt like I was part of a team that had over 1,000 all-purpose yards. But the next year I missed a lot and missed some games, but thanks to Pepper Johnson, he helped my career,” Hampton said. “Pep told me I had to play because of most of the injuries. My locker was right next to him, so I just watched him and learned.
“After missing 4 games, he needed 89 yards against the Houston Oilers to break 1,000 yards in the last game of the season. Pep told me his defense would keep the Oilers offense off the field. When we had the ball, Pep helped me with what I needed to hear when he was off the pitch. I finished with 140 yards. After that, I had five straight 1,000-yard seasons. Without Pep’s encouragement and advice, I wouldn’t have thought I could have stayed in the league for three years.”
And now he is being honored at the same time as Anderson, the player he will replace.
Hampton’s career total included 6,897 rushing yards on 1,824 attempts with 49 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry. Additionally, he was a valuable receiver with 174 receptions for 1,309 yards and two additional scores. He started 85 games and had five straight 1,000-yard seasons.
His total rushing yards were the most in a career with New York until Tiki Barber surpassed his mark in 2004.
Despite playing at the height of free agency, Hampton played his entire career with the Giants, which is almost an anomaly. Now he is being identified with what is considered the greatest player to ever wear the blue jersey.
How Hampton learned he was selected to enter the Ring of Honor was a genius of secrecy by the Giants themselves.
“The Giants invited me, OJ, Joe Morris and Leonard to their practice facility one day. We should have talked to this year’s team before their first game,” Hampton explained. “That’s what they told us. But then John Mara told us in front of the team that we are all entering the Ring of Honor for Monday night’s game against the Cowboys. “We thought we were there to inspire this year’s team, but they kept us there to surprise us at the end of practice.”
The current line-up of training players was already included in the event. After Mara made the announcement, the current roster drew cheers and applause.
Since guys like Hampton played in the 1990s, did this year’s roster know who he was?
“They knew us,” Hampton suggested. “It reminded me of when I was a freshman and one or two former veterans would come up, I had to do my homework and see what kind of player they were and what they were about. I am sure that these players have done the same.”
The Giants’ Ring of Honor will now include 50 players, coaches and executives.
Other than Rote, Patton and Barnes, this class has another strong group of players active in the mid-1980s and successful years of the 1990s. Those teams won two Super Bowls under head coach Bill Parcells in 1986 and 1990.
Along with Hampton, Morris, Anderson and Marshall, who played during that era, Ring of Honor inductees already inducted 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 were enshrined.
That means this single period of Giants history accounts for 26 percent of the Ring of Honor, which shows just how big those lists really are.
“We had a lot of talent, more deserving than me. They trained us well,” said Hampton. “When I came to the team, I tell people that it was a very good list. A lot of veteran talent I was able to surround myself with. And we were two deep at most positions.”
Hampton and Rothe are said to be locks for the honor. The question may be, why did it take so long for the powers that be to finally pull the trigger and include them?
“I dont know. I had no control over this process, but I had the mindset that if it was going to happen, it was going to happen. But it didn’t bother me,” Hampton said. “I didn’t sweat it, I didn’t worry about it. But they called my name and I am happy with my family and friends.”
Even Hampton’s arrival in New York was an internal conflict
In 1989, the Giants went 12-4-0 and won the NFC East title. They then suffered a shock loss in the divisional round to the Los Angeles Rams 19–13. Anderson was the starting running back with quarterback Maurice Carthon. Other contributors to the list were George Adams, Dave Meggett, Lee Rowson and Lewis Tillman.
With such a good record the previous season, it placed the Giants pretty high in the draft order of the 1990 NFL draft, the 24th pick in the first round. The Crosstown Jets selected Penn State’s Blair Thomas with the second overall pick. The other running backs were Florida’s Emmitt Smith with the 17th pick, Darrell Thompson and Steve Broussard going 19th and 20th to Green Bay and Atlanta, respectively.
Seven defensemen had been selected at this point in the draft. When the Giants went on the clock at No. 24, Parcells wanted that number to be eight.
He really wanted Jackson State linebacker Darion Connery. Playing a 3-4 defensive scheme, the starting linebackers were LT, Banks, Gary Reasons and Johnie Cooks, and the backups were LaSalle Harper, Pepper Johnson and Ricky Shaw. Defensively, Parcells considered the linebacker position a strength for the franchise.
There was a feud developing between Parcells and GM George Young.
“Coach really wanted a quarterback from Jackson State. I’m so glad George Young took me anyway. My first NFL carry was good after going 89 yards for my coach,” Hampton added. “Is Coach Parcells going to tell me anything about the Ring of Honor? All I know is that I proved George Young right.”
Hampton is looking forward to his special night.
“I’m also happy and happy to go in with a lot of emotions. It’s going to be a great night,” concluded Hampton. “I retired in 1997 and my eldest was only three years old. Being in that big stadium with my kids and all the fans will be as special for them as it is for me.”
Barry Shook is a professional football history writer and member of the Association of Professional Football Researchers