Bill Hampton on Jets Sideline

This article by Doug Miller from Jets Gameday dates back to 2000. We include it as a way to honor one of the legendary Equipment Managers of the NFL.

Bill Hampton's vivid recollections are as crisp as a late autumn morning. The New York Jets' long-time equipment manager and venerable father figure to so many players recites countless tales of his years with the team in a relaxed and almost whimsical style. 

"It's been a wonderful 36 years." Hampton said. "I've met so many great players, coaches and friends. l'm a very lucky man." If Hampton counts himself as being lucky for his many years with the Jets, then countless others feel downright blessed to have had the chance to work alongside the longest tenured full-time equipment manager in the NFL.

*Hampy' is incredible, said former Jets safety Kenny Schroy. "He's a great man who always looked after the players and made sure that they were taken care of. And it's not just with equipment, he looks after guys and acts like a father figure to so many of the young guys. It's one of the things that make him so special."

Today marks a very extraordinary day in not only the life of Hampton, but also in the annals of the Jets franchise. Shortly after the Jets starters are introduced, the Astoria, Queens native will quietly and unassumingly take to the playing field for his 700th pro football game (counting preseason, regular season and postseason games) in the Green and White. 

"I think it's a tribute to Bill that he's been able to survive this long in this business. Not many of us do," said head coach Bill Parcells. "He's been a big help to me since I arrived at the Jets (in 1997). He's been a joy to work with, and I can easily see why he's been around for the time that he has. I don't know of anybody that doesn't have the same feelings towards Bill. He's a great guy, and I'm just so glad to have him with us."

"Sure I remember the first game I worked for the Jets," Hampton rhetorically remarked. "We played the (Buffalo) Bills in Tampa, Florida. Those were the days when we would play all around the country during the preseason. Those were some interesting days, to say the least, but they were fun times.

"We trained over at Rikers Island, the prison located near La Guardia Airport, in the old AFL days. That kept everyone humble. Players on the team would go and get normal jobs after the seasons were over. It was a different time."

Throughout the ever changing times, Hampton has been a constant within the franchise throughout the years. It is a testament of his durability, perseverance and toughness, (terms generally reserved just for the players on the field). He has, in fact, only missed one game in his 36 years, ironically enough it was a Jets Dolphins showdown in 1984 when he was hospitalized with diverticulitis.

"Growing up I thought I would end up being a New York City fireman or cop, because everyone always talked about the good benefits that they received,"  he said. "And then one day, the guy who was the visiting locker room attendant at the old Madison Square Garden told me he was being sent off to fight in World War II, and he gave me the job. That's how I got started in this business, I was just 15 or 16 (years old) at the time (1945)."

He then joined the Jets in 1964 and has overseen the day-to-day operation of tine equipment department. Together with his second youngest son, Clay, and a group of youthful assistants, Hampton oversees all of the players' uniform needs, as well as those of the coaching staff and the surrounding Jets support staff. In addition, Hampton supervises the organization, transportation and set-up for all of the team's home and away games.

"That's always a challenge," he said. "The weather can change so quickly in some places, like Denver and you have to be prepared for anything: sun, snow, sleet or rain. You just have to be ready. There are lots of things to worry about during the week leading up to a game."

One of the most treasured aspects of Hampton's job has been the ability to work closely with all of his sons. At one time or another, each of his four sons has worked with him and learned the ropes of the trade.

"I was away from home for long periods of time, like training camp and then you combine that with the long hours this job has," Hampton said. "That's what has made working with my sons so special, because we came closer as they got older, and we all spent more time together."

Three of his sons currently work in the NFL: Billy is the operations manager for the Cleveland Browns, Drew serves as the equipment manager for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Clay is the Jets equipment director.

Clay, who has served in his current capacity since 1994, credits his father for instilling the work habits in each of his brothers and sister. "We are all fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from him and pick his brain regarding certain things. I'm really amazed that he's worked 700 games. It's quite a milestone, and we are all so proud of of him."

The elder Hampton was recognized a few years ago by the New York Press Photographers with their annual *Good Guy Award," given annually to members of the New York sports scene for their cooperation in making photographers difficult jobs just a bit easier.

"Bill Hampton has always been the model of class and a real gentleman," said New York Post photographer Bob Olen.

"Do you have a year for me to tell you all the wonderful things about Mr. Hampton," said former RB Freeman McNeil. "He's the link and the chain. He took me under his wing and made me part of his family. He made me one of his children. He would have me over to dinner and watch over me. He helps everyone who walks through these doors, giving them advice and ideas on how to succeed. He would tell players about the players before them and what it took to make it. He's enabled me to succeed and to become acclimated to New York and to remain here. He's a vital part of Jets history. The people he knows and has touched, you could write a book on it."

Another unique aspect of Hampton's tenure has been the innovations he has brought to the professional football world. In the late 1960's, Hampton and Jets assistant coach Walt Michaels had the ingenious idea of having players wear panty hose to protect their legs against freezing cold temperatures. "The players all looked at us funny when we suggested it," Hampton recalled. "But in the end, they enjoyed staying warm."

"Joe Namath ended up doing a famous commercial out of it," Hampton said. "That got lots of laughs, but the real sight to see was the big guys like Sherman Plunkett and Winston Hill getting into the "Big Mama's" (oversized hose). I had to walk into a store in Manhattan and the looks that people had for me were unreal. A clerk said to me, 'What are you doing with all of these?' I told her, 'You're not going to believe this, but they are for the football players.' She looked at me like I was nuts."

Yet another Hampton innovation was a true team effort when he and his wife, Dottie, devised the pockets sewn into the jerseys of the skill players on both offense and defense before the 1968 AFL Championship victory over the Oakland Raiders at a frigid Shea Stadium. "At the time it was stylish for women to wear the hand muffs in front of their jackets. So we said, 'Why not give it a try right into the jerseys?' It worked pretty well, but Dottie had to sew each of the warmers into the jerseys, and that was a lot of work."

While the memories of such interesting tales seem to spark countless other stories from Hampton, clearly the ones that he cherishes the most are regarding the close friendships he has made through the years.

"It goes back to the years with guys like Ralph Baker and John Elliott to guys like Joe Namath and Emerson Boozer and through with guys, like Marty (Lyons) and Big Joe (Klecko). And then it continues with guys like Freeman McNeil, Kyle Clifton, Bryan Cox and Vinny (Testaverde) today. The names change, unfortunately, but then you're lucky because new guys come in and you learn from them."

"When they bury Mr. Hampton, they're going to have to bury him in a time capsule because of everything that he has seen and done and the knowledge that he has," said Klecko. "They're going to want to pass it down to all the future generations to come."

"You know, I guess thinking back on it 700 games is a lot," Hampton summed up. "But when you are surrounded by good people and people that genuinely care about each other and look after each other, then it makes it all worthwhile. In that sense, it's been a really great way to make a living."

"Of course, the icing on the cake was winning the Super Bowl in 1969. That's what every singe player, coach and person that works here is striving towards. That's our sole focus every season."

Hampton and PR Director Frank Ramos are the only current members of the Jets staff to have been a part of the team's lone Super Bowl championship team, and each wears his Super Bowl ring proudly so that others around them keep their dreams alive.

Indeed it's been a great run. especially as Parcells said, for those that have had the pleasure of working with a true New York sports legend, like Bill Hampton.