Cook: Hampton's value? It's as big as he is
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You know Hines Ward was the Super Bowl MVP, right?
You also know Ward was the Steelers' co-MVP last season.
But can you name the other co-MVP?
Here's a hint: It wasn't Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, Alan Faneca, Marvel Smith or Willie Parker.
"If you know it was me," Casey Hampton was saying after a steamy Latrobe practice this week, "you're a true fan."
Has there ever been a more obscure co-MVP on a Super Bowl champion?
Hampton is cool with it. The recognition from his teammates is enough. He'll always take that over all of the Pro Bowls and newspaper headlines. He knows how it works in the NFL.
"All these people," he said, looking around at the hillside throng of Steelers fans at Saint Vincent College, "they're all for the offense. We can stop 'em all day and all night and nothing. But the offense makes one run or one pass, and everybody goes crazy."
But what about that huge roar only moments earlier when Polamalu intercepted a Roethlisberger pass?
"Troy's different," Hampton said. "He might be the most popular player on the team."
Among the fans, maybe.
But among the other players?
Here's a guess it's Hampton, hands down.
Part of it is his immense size. Think of a big, lovable lug with a sweet personality. That's Hampton. He's so big you could show a drive-in movie on his backside. The players gave him the perfect nickname: "Big Snack." They say it lovingly, of course.
Teammates also like Hampton's selfless nature. He doesn't complain about being taken out on third down, even though he could be a dominant inside pass rusher on a lot of teams. He also doesn't mind taking a beating by gobbling up the opposing center and a guard so the Steelers' linebackers can swoop in to make tackles and be the stars.
But mostly, the other players like Hampton because he makes their defense what it is.
"I hate going up against those guys during training camp," Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said, "because you just can't move Casey."
Hampton is a big reason the Steelers held NFL MVP Shaun Alexander to fewer than 100 yards in Super Bowl XL. He also picked that game to get his first sack of the season. It was a huge play -- Seattle, trailing, 14-10, had a first down at the Steelers' 29 early in the fourth quarter when he tossed aside center Robbie Tobeck and dumped quarterback Matt Hasselbeck -- that was lost in the excitement of Ike Taylor's interception two plays later, then really lost in the delirium of Antwaan Randle El's gadget-play touchdown pass to Ward four plays after that.
Such is the life of a nose tackle.
"I got another sack in the Pro Bowl," Hampton said. "That's two sacks in two Pro Bowls."
It was suggested to Hampton that Pro Bowl sacks don't count.
He wasn't buying it.
"I count 'em," he said. "I don't get many, so they all count in my book."
It says something about what the rest of the league thinks of Hampton that he has made two Pro Bowls as a two-down player. Opposing teams build their offense with him in mind. The Cleveland Browns signed free-agent Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley for big money in the offseason so he could deal with Hampton twice a year. That's why the Browns were so devastated and their fans outraged on team message boards when Bentley's knee was injured on the first day of camp and he was lost for the season.
"Roethlisberger hits a windshield face-first at 50 mph and is just fine and our guy is done after the first practice ... "
Steelers management also is aware of Hampton's value. A year ago, the team signed him to a five-year, $22,775,000 contract, including a $6,975,000 bonus, then the third highest in team history.
If you made that kind of jack, you'd probably be cool about being overlooked by the fans, too.
That doesn't mean Hampton didn't enjoy his moment in the spotlight. It happened when the Steelers visited the White House June 2. President Bush practically knocked aside Steelers owner Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II, coach Bill Cowher and Ward to shake Hampton's hand first. The two go back to their days in Texas, when Hampton played his college ball for the Longhorns and Bush was the governor.
"We used to pump iron together," Dubya said.
A lesser man might not have been so humble.
Take that, Hines!
First Published August 11, 2006 12:00 am