The Johnson City Salvation Army’s Souper Bowl for the Hungry with Chicago Bears Hall of Fame defensive lineman and tackle Dan Hampton brought out a crowd of close to 400 people Friday to help the Salvation Army help the community’s needy.
For its 16th consecutive year, the benefit luncheon was a sellout, packing the Holiday Inn’s banquet hall with football fans and Salvation Army supporters and raising an estimated $25,000 for the army’s feeding and shelter programs.
The crowd included a team of executives and managers from Food City, the Souper Bowl’s leading sponsor for the past 10 years, who presented the Salvation Army with an additional $15,000 raised through their customers’ purchase of paper Souper Bowl footballs.
Food City President Steve Smith said it was the stores’ most successful Souper Bowl promotion yet and added to the more than $100,000 donated to the Salvation Army by their customers over the past nine years.
Following in the path of past Souper Bowl speakers Archie Manning, Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers and others, Hampton pleased the crowd with stories of his career, cheered their support for the Salvation Army and challenged them to dream big.
While his NFL career highlights include a 1979 first-round draft selection by the Bears, a first season Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie award; 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988 All-Pro selections; a 1985 Super Bowl win; and a fierce defensive style that earned him the nickname “Danimal,” it was the Writers Association’s 1990 George S. Halas Courage Award he won in his final season that Hampton spoke of Friday.
Awarded to a player who “performs with abandon despite injury,” Hampton said the award recognizes players with “the most courage and least brains for playing through injuries.” And for him, those injuries began with multiple leg fractures suffered at age 11 that he thought would prevent him from ever playing football again.
“I started playing football in the seventh grade. I was a fast kid, a huge kid,” he said. “But that summer I fell out of tree landed on my feet, standing straight up like I am now. ... Seven or eight months later I got up out of a wheelchair, joined the band and started playing the saxophone.”
The following year, Hampton’s father died of pancreatic cancer. His mother began working six days a week. And when he realized she was struggling to feed them, he said, “I realized I had to make something of myself to help my mother.”
Hampton’s high school football team had not won a game in four years but they had a new coach who was looking for players who wanted to make a difference. The coach was aware of Hampton’s injuries but did not think they could stop him. His coach was right. Hampton joined the team his junior year and when he graduated, he said, “Everybody wanted me.”
Hampton went to Arkansas, where there were many outstanding collegiate players and a coach who wanted them to play not as individuals, but as a team with the single common goal of winning a national championship. “People with common goals can accomplish a lot. They can move mountains,” he said. “I became a believer in goals and a huge believer in teamwork.”
In 1984, Hampton and the Bears won the NFC championship but came up short in the Super Bowl. “By that time I had had eight knee surgeries and I didn’t know how long I could last,” he said. But he went to each of his teammates with his plea “for all of us to really give it our all next year.”
“Playing as a team. Having goals. Having commitment. It pays off,” Hampton said. “Just like here in Johnson City, (Souper Bowl organizer) Tom Krieger is an excellent coach. He is your point man. He has built this team. And it can get better.
“Next year, when you come to the Souper Bowl, bring somebody,” Hampton told the packed hall. “We can knock out a wall. We can build an extension. ... For next year’s Souper Bowl, remember what I told you ... dream big.”