Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 99 Days with Dan Hampton

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Chicago Bears / RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears 2023 campaign is officially 99 days away from commencing at home versus the Green Bay Packers, and to celebrate opening day inching closer and closer every day, today will be the first edition of "Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff", a series in which we will look at the lore and legend of famous Chicago Bears players whose numbers match the number of days we are away from the start of the 2023 season.

"Dan Hampton" number of nays until Chicago Bears football

With 99 days left until opening kickoff, let us take a look at the most legendary player to wear number 99 in Chicago Bears history, defensive lineman Dan Hampton, by taking a deeper look into the path he took to join the Bears franchise and the legacy he left on the field.

While Hampton, better known as "the Danimal", was an integral member of the legendary 1985 Bears' defense, his path to becoming one of the most recognizable players in Chicago sports history was a rather unlikely one.

Born in Oklahoma City, Hampton spent most of his childhood in Jacksonville, Arkansas, where he grew up on his family's farm. As a child, Hampton had several injuries that helped shape his eventual career as one of the most dominant and toughest defensive linemen of his era.

As a young farm kid, Hampton's father had changed the locations of some of the family's pastures, moving around the barbed wire fences. Hampton, unaware of these changes, was riding his bike when he suddenly sped straight into one of these newly placed fences, suffering a number of cuts all over his body.

"I knew if I went to the doctor he’d take about 200 stitches, so I laid in the bathtub and bled for a while, then put some medicine on it,” Hampton recalled in a 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately, this injury was not even the worst that Hampton suffered that year, as he fell out of a tree while playing with his brother Matt. Dan suffered two broken legs and a broken arm and was forced to have surgery on his legs while spending six months in a wheelchair.

"The doctor said I would never be able to run without discomfort again. My right heel was crushed, they took 60% of it out and put pins in" Hampton stated, and even went on to mention that this injury impacted him even through his NFL career.

However, as a child, Hampton did not appear to have big aspirations of being a professional football player. Picking up the sport near the end of junior high school, Hampton quit football before starting high school, stating that it was too painful, opting instead to join the school's band.

Hampton was convinced to play football before his junior season, where he made an immediate impact at the right tackle position. As a senior, Hampton became a two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive end, leading him to eventually join the University of Arkansas's football team as a scholarship athlete.

At the University of Arkansas, Hampton was a four-year letterman but enjoyed his best season as a senior, where he recorded 98 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries en route to a Fiesta Bowl appearance following the 1978 season.

The next spring, Hampton was selected fourth overall by the Chicago Bears during the 1979 NFL Draft, and the young defensive lineman enjoyed immediate success as a pro. As a rookie, Hampton logged 4.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries while finishing third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

The next year, Hampton had a true breakout season, totaling 11.5 sacks, and was nominated to his first Pro Bowl. In his twelve-year NFL career, all of which were with the Bears, Hampton was selected to four Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams, including a First-Team nomination in 1984.

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Chicago Bears / RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

While 1984 was Hampton's best individual season as a pro, his contributions to the vaunted 1985 defense cemented his legacy as one of the all-time great Chicago Bears players. Hampton did not have his best individual season in 1985, accounting for only 6.5 of the team's total 64 sacks during the season, but was nonetheless a dominant force on one of the league's best defensive lines ever.

In the 1985 post-season, Hampton recorded two sacks over three games, including 1.5 sacks in Super Bowl XX. The following season, Hampton enjoyed another great individual season, logging 10 sacks over 16 games, but with injuries starting to feel their presence in the following years of Hampton's career, the defensive lineman retired following the 1990 season.

Hampton retired with the third most sacks in a player's time in Chicago and still holds that mark to this day. While his running mate Richard Dent had over twice as many sacks as a Bear, Hampton's impact on the Bears' defensive line cannot be underestimated, especially when it came to his versatility as a defensive lineman. Having played all across the defensive line, Hampton made a Pro Bowl at every position on the defensive front four and was an essential cog in the machine that was the 1985 Chicago Bears defense.

In his 12-year Chicago Bears career, Hampton recorded 82 sacks over 157 games and was eventually selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002 alongside NFL legends such as Dave Casper, Jim Kelley, and John Stallworth. Today, Hampton can be seen as a co-host on the Pro Football Weekly show, as well as a co-host on WGN's The Hamp and O'B Show.