Dave Hampton proved to be a solid NFL running back cursed by too many of those it’s-going-to-be-one-of-those-days kinds of days. Even when everything seemed to go right for Hampton, who played primarily for the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons over eight seasons, something invariably went wrong.
It qualified him as the unluckiest 1,000-yard rusher ever.
Dave Hampton’s lousy luck started in college
Dave Hampton was always on someone’s list to play running back, but it took him a while to reach the top of that list. He was the backup for Jim Kiick on the University of Wyoming’s unbeaten team in 1967 and made the all-conference team the following season. Though he would have the longest career of the Green Bay Packers’ 1969 draft class (Vince Lombardi’s final draft with the Packers), Hampton lasted until the ninth round and wasn’t even the first running back the team took.
There weren’t many carries to be found as a rookie, but Hampton still ran for 365 yards and caught 15 passes in 1969. The 1970 season promised to be better, but even his finest moment was snakebit. Hampton returned a kickoff for 101 yards and a touchdown in Week 3 only to collapse in pain in the end zone. Subsequent stomach surgery sidelined him for eight games.
Hampton still wasn’t getting many carries in his third season in Green Bay, but he scored a kickoff return TD for the third straight year. His mark of 1,314 yards on 46 kickoff returns was agonizingly close – just three yards – from matching the NFL record.
Falling just short would pretty much define the remainder of his career, according to FootballOutsider.com.
Dave Hampton should have had three 1,000-yard seasons
A trade before the 1972 season was one of the rare times in his career that Dave Hampton caught a break. Falcons coach Norm Van Brocklin wanted him as a kick-return specialist and spare running back, but Hampton took over as the starting running back three weeks into the season. He justified Van Brocklin’s faith with a 161-yard day in his first start.
Although there would be no more 100-yard days for him that season, Hampton piled up the yardage. Despite having missed one game, he entered the final Sunday of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs with 930 yards.
Hampton’s 18th carry of that finale was a short run early in the fourth quarter that put him at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, and the game was stopped briefly to acknowledge what was a first in franchise history. His 19th carry was not so fortunate; Hampton lost five yards after being tripped up in the backfield.
The Chiefs chewed up most of the rest of the quarter on a long scoring drive that won the game, and Hampton never got another opportunity to carry. He finished the first of what should have been three 1,000-yard seasons with just 995 yards.
More hard luck for the running back the following season
The Atlanta Falcons had found their workhorse, and Dave Hampton got off to a solid start in 1973 with only one game of under 53 yards through Week 11. A pair of 49-yard days in losses to the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Cardinals left Hampton at 913 yards with one game to play.
The Falcons went into the finale vs. the New Orleans Saints with slim hopes of earning the wildcard playoff berth. Leading 14-10 to start the fourth quarter, the Falcons were determined to both chew up the clock and help Hampton reach his milestone. Hampton would carry the ball 16 times in the fourth quarter to finish with a season-high 27 attempts in the game, but his 84 yards left him at 997 for the season.
Hampton missed the first five games of a dismal 1974 season, so the 1,000-yard milestone was out of reach. However, he would get the milestone in 1975 – although it was a close call. Needing 59 yards in the final game of the season, Hampton came up with 61 to finish at 1,002.
That would be the last substantial output in a season for Hampton, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles early in 1976 and then was out of the league the following fall.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference