Casey Hampton is a guy who is quick with a smile and a laugh, an infectious laugh that comes from deep down and makes everyone else smile right along with him.
Affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Snack,’ Hampton’s heart is far greater than his appetite ever has been. Because Hampton is just one of those good guys, one who doesn’t like to talk about himself, but others love to talk about what a great guy he is.
“When I think of Hamp, I think of the joyful attitude he brought every day,” said former teammate Aaron Smith. “He was always happy. He always had a joyful approach to the day. Hamp was good for always in a situation saying that one sentence that made the moment easier. That is the joy he always brought.”
That is why he was the perfect person to roast at the 21st Annual Mel Blount Youth Home All-Star Celebrity Roast, which was held at Heinz Field.
“It’s a great honor in the sense that the things I have done, he would look at me in that light,” said Hampton. “It's humbling. It makes me realize I did things the right way, and I always try to do things the right way. For a guy like that to show me enough respect, to honor me, it’s a huge deal for me. I am really appreciative of it and it means a lot that he thinks that much of me.”
The event benefited Blount’s Youth Leadership Initiative, something that is helping to build today’s youth.
“It’s an idea and a concept to help kids build character, integrity, hope, leadership,” said Blount of the Youth Leadership Initiative. “All of the things we are looking for in our young people. We want to help them be great. Not just in sports, but in life, in the business world. It starts with getting kids to understanding how important it is to have integrity, to have respect for each other, for human life.”
Hampton is someone who personifies the values that Blount is teaching, and while he was roasted by Smith, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke and John Mitchell, they also couldn’t stop singing his praises.
“He is a great guy,” said Mitchell, the Steelers’ assistant head coach who was Hampton’s defensive line coach. “Even when I got mad at Casey, I couldn’t get mad at him. The rest of the players during his time, I had a great relationship with all of them. With Casey, we had a different type of relationship. They would always say Casey has a special place in my heart and he does.
“I got to know Casey on more than a player and coach relationship. It was like a father and son relationship. Casey would come to me at times, and we all had problems. Casey gave everything he had. Everything he had he shared with people he cared about.”
When the Steelers selected Casey Hampton in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft, they knew they had a player who would give the defense a huge lift, be a staple on the defensive line and be a player they could always depend on.
What they got, was a whole lot more. They got a player that gave them his heart and soul.
Hampton played 12 seasons for the Steelers, starting 164 of the 173 games he played in. He finished with 403 tackles, 272 of them solo stops, and nine and a half sacks. He added five forced fumbles, four pass defenses, and two fumble recoveries.
Steelers alumni came out in full force to honor Casey Hampton at the annual event
As part of a Steelers defense that dominated opponents, during Hampton’s time in the black and gold the team played in the postseason eight times and won their division six times. Hampton also was part of three Super Bowl teams with the Steelers, including a two-time champion in Super Bowl XL and XLIII.
Hampton was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and was voted MVP by his teammates in 2005 along with Hines Ward. He was also a member of the Steelers 75th Anniversary Team during the 2007 season, quite an honor considering the other defensive linemen were Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Stautner and Dwight White.
“I can remember when Coach (Bill) Cowher and I went down to Texas to work him out,” recalled Mitchell. “The day we worked him out you could tell there was something special about him. I put him through the drills, worked him hard. At that time Casey was a little overweight because the season had ended. The thing I liked about him that day is he fought through it. He didn’t quit. He could have quit. Coach Cowher and I got together and said there is something special about this guy.
“We didn’t give it to him. He had to come in and beat somebody out. He worked hard. Casey didn’t start until about the sixth game of the season. After that he had a 12-year career here.
“Being a nose tackle in a 3-4 is a dirty job. It’s really dirty. The thing you have to realize about Casey that made him special, if you look back at the guys we had that played inside linebacker, that went to the Pro Bowl year in and year out, they are good football players. But the reason they went, they had a nose tackle that took up three guys on almost every play and made their job really easy.
“Casey was special because if you didn’t double team him, or triple team him, he would take over the game. The ball would not get to the second level, which is to the linebackers. If you did that, that made the inside linebackers really good. Look at how many linebackers made the Pro Bowl and that will tell you what kind of player Casey was.”
Hampton grew up in Galveston, Texas, where he played at Ball High. He was a first-team All-State Class 5A selection and two-time District Defensive Player of the Year. His dominance and play had the school honor him in 2009 when they retired his No. 63 jersey.
He stayed close to home playing college football at the University of Texas, although that almost wasn’t the case. Hampton was looking at Missouri until some Texas coaches saw him on tape while they were analyzing an offensive lineman, but Hampton is the player who kept jumping out. And they were correct. He started 37 consecutive games for the Longhorns. He became the first defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles in two consecutive seasons (1999-2000). He recorded 329 tackles (177 of them solo stops). He also had nine and a half sacks and 54 stops for losses.
To say Hampton has come a long way in life is an understatement. He grew up in a tough part of Galveston, raised along with his brother and two sisters by his mother, Ivory Anderson, in government housing. But he managed to stay out of trouble, stay away from the temptations that lurked in the neighborhood because as a former coach said, “He never stood on the corner, and he was always in the weight room.”
“What a story,” said Hoke. “A young man like him could rise up and be the man he is today. That’s what it’s all about. And that is Casey Hampton.”
Hampton’s dream was always to make it to the NFL, and when he did one of the first things he did was surprise his mother by buying her a home, and getting her into a safer area in Galveston. Just a few months ago, on Feb. 13, Hampton’s mother passed away at just 66 years old.
A person with a heart of gold, Hampton always wanted to do his part to give back. It started in college when he volunteered at a children’s hospital in Austin, Texas. With the Steelers he would take part in the team’s community activities and was especially fond of spending time with kids at the facility through Make-A-Wish, in particular a young girl named Heather Miller, who Hampton formed a close relationship with before she lost her battle with cancer. And he still continues to give back, involved with the Boys & Girls Club in the Galveston area.
“He is a real guy. He is a kid at heart,” said Keisel. “I think that is what draws people to him, what draws kids to him. Some kids come visit the Steelers when they are sick, that is their wish. Casey has that effect on a lot of kids like that. It was the genuine nature he went about himself. He was honest. He was warm. I think when people got to be around him and see what he is like off the football field, it was infectious. There is no doubt why that happened. He is that type of special guy.”
And of course, the roast couldn’t happen without ‘Big Snack’ being brought up.
“We had a deal that the rookies had to bring snacks for the veteran players,” said Mitchell. “You would be in a meeting for a long time, watching film. The rookies brought snacks but didn’t eat them. That was the rule. When Casey was a rookie I would catch him eating out of the basket because at the end of the day all the snacks would be gone. It went on about three weeks. At the end of the day I would say Casey, if you are going to do that, don’t come at the same time every day. Fool me. Don’t let me catch you. He was taking the snacks from the vets.
“He lived up to the nickname. People just loved Casey. A nice looking young man, great personality, never met a stranger, he would talk to you about anything.”
Hampton was full of laughs throughout the night, listening to the stories and most importantly visiting with lifetime friends.
“When we get back together we say we need to do this more often,” said Hampton. “When we get back together, with the guys I played with, defensive linemen I played with for so long, we really know each other and we have so much fun. I know those guys had a lot of good things to say and that meant a lot. It’s always fun to get back together with the guys you played with for so long.”