Deep in the heart of Texas, there are hundreds of people who want one man to live a long, prosperous life. They want this for him because he is family. They want it because he is a friend…because he has done right by them and made them smile for as long as they can remember. They wish him longevity because it has been denied to so many like him. It has been denied to star football players like Korey Stringer and Reggie White. Longevity was not available to Reggie Lewis or Len Bias or Hank Gathers or Malik Sealy or Conrad McCrae or Darrent Williams. It has been denied to world class journalists like Ralph Wiley and Ed Bradley. It has eluded the grasp of elite performers like Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes. It was snatched from great political leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In another city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, there is a coach that wants the same thing for that young man. The coach, though, has other immediate needs as well. He wants to instill discipline and make his mark on a team that won the Super Bowl under the leadership of an icon.
The young man has already achieved all that could be done at the collegiate level. He was a standout performer for the Longhorns. In the NFL, among those who know, Casey Hampton is arguably the single best nose tackle in the entire league. He has a Super Bowl ring, the respect of his peers and the adoration of family, friends and fans. What Mr. Hampton does not have, right now, is the job that provides his livelihood. In order to get back on the field, he has to lose weight. It’s been reported that he came to camp close to 400 pounds, at that has happened previously. Under the old regime, it was okay. They found a way to work it out.
Under the new regime, it’s not acceptable. I have no doubt that Casey Hampton will find himself back on the field as the anchor to Mike Tomlin’s defense. Until then, he will remain on what is called the “physically unable to perform” (PUP) List The larger concern is that he find himself positioned to live life after the game is gone and the impositions of a coach’s discipline have passed from his routine. The future is promised to none of us. If our own demise is brought about by our own hand, as it so often is, we impose needless hardships on ourselves and others.
Hampton’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is a disciple of former Steeler player and current coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy. Dungy has always been a proponent of speed over size. Cut from the cloth of Chuck Noll, Dungy always sought to have the fastest and best-conditioned athletes on the field. In the 1970’s, when Dungy played for Pittsburgh, the Steelers were arguably the best-conditioned and strongest team in the entire league. Of course, the game was different then and all players were smaller, but many of the Steeler greats were never especially big players. There were exceptions like Mel Blount and Joe Green, but there was also Jack Lambert and Lynn Swann. Speed and execution were decisive for Noll, then and those principles are essential for Dungy now. So, too, it seems with Mike Tomlin.
Perhaps a long-standing personal philosophy with links to 5 Super Bowl championships and a young man’s need to impose his will can combine to extend the life chances of another talented person with a great deal to contribute.