As I walk among the members of the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, I can't help but notice their varied and sundry bumps, bruises, scars, scabs, scrapes and stitches, and I am reminded of how that Aristotelian philosopher, Clubber Lang, responded in "Rocky III" when he was asked what his prediction for the upcoming title fight might be: "Pain!"
Linemen, it is said, particularly offensive linemen, play most regularly in pain. "Because of limited demands on their speed and mobility, offensive linemen may be able to be hampered and still perform," explains Chicago safety Gary Fencik. A teammate of Fencik's, guard Stefan Humphries, concedes the point, confessing that "in essence, on the offensive line, all we do is get in someone's way." Defining the subspecies of offensive linemen, New England guard Ron Wooten simply says, "We're mules."
Take John Hannah. (But rent some heavy machinery first.) Hannah, who looks like a forklift with hair, was talking about a slight pain problem he'd been playing with these last few weeks. "I tore the large head of my bicep loose, and it's been flopping around for a while," he said casually. (Most of us with small or potato-headed biceps won't have this problem.) Hannah remains undeterred. "Right now I'm thinking about doing it to my other one. When I flex, there's a big bubble there. It looks good and impresses people."
But pain isn't restricted to offensive linemen. Dan Hampton plays the defensive line for the Bears, and he didn't get the nickname "Danimal" because he's cute and fuzzy. Fencik talks about some lucky players having a low threshold of pain, meaning they can tolerate large doses of pain. Hampton is beyond low; Hampton, says Fencik, has no threshold of pain. Hampton is a two-parter on "Misfits of Science."
Dan, come on, give us a break.
Both hands. Both legs. One arm. Many, many fingers.
"I lay in bed at night and hurt. But on the field it's different," Hampton said, shrugging his shoulders. "Something that would bother another guy won't bother me at all. I don't know why. I can only assume it's my intensity overriding my pain."
Fencik has seen Hampton play "cut up, sliced up, his knees ravaged; the few games he has missed they've practically had to chain him down to keep him out." Hampton says he developed the ability to play through the pain in college at Arkansas, where a group ethic among players made such behavior an unspoken law. "I played in college with three ribs cracked off my sternum and never missed a practice -- course, when it was over, I felt like I had a knife stuck in me." Hampton forces a smile. "They're always saying that if you're playing hard, you won't get hurt. That's bull. I've been playing hard all my life, and I get nothing but hurt."
The injuries predate the football career. He tells of one time when he rode his bicycle through a barbed-wire fence on the family ranch. You think Rambo's tough? Here's tough: "I knew if I'd gone to a hospital, I'd have gotten about 200 stitches. So I just lay there in the bathtub and bled for a little while. Then I put some medicine on me and went back out." (I'm supposed to say, "I don't believe you"? To a guy like that?)
Hampton says the most pain he ever felt was when he was 12 years old and he fell from a tree and broke both legs and an arm. What he was doing in the tree was climbing it, gripping a knife in his teeth. He needed the knife to cut the rope his brother had climbed and was clinging to as he shot at Hampton with a BB gun. Just some good, clean family fun at the Hampton spread. That time, at least, Hampton did go to a doctor. "He put me in a wheelchair and wrapped me up in so many bandages I looked like a mummy."
Are there scars? you ask.
And after all these collisions, are you afraid of anything?
"Just women and the po-lice."
You haven't lived until you've seen the ring finger on Hampton's right hand. It looks like something Dr. Frankenstein got bored with. The bottom half near the knuckle is hideously swollen, like a sausage pumped full of helium, and the top half takes a sharp dogleg left. I probably shouldn't even mention the stitches. Sweet as you please, Hampton recalls that he "made a tackle, then I looked down, and part of my finger was up inside my hand." (Why do I keep wanting to dedicate this column to Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest?) The finger is frozen that way now, even though, Hampton says, he's had the operation that doctors assured him would fix it. Holding the finger high in the air, he says he doesn't think of it as an injury anymore, but a lawsuit.
Hampton has played with so many broken bones and so much torn cartilage that on cold, damp days he creaks when he walks. "I see that Mountain Dew commercial, where the guys run like hell down a hill and jump into the water, and I go, boy, I remember when I used to could do that. Those days are long gone now." He semi-sighs, fixes his eyes on the far wall and says determinedly, "But that's one of the sacrifices you make to play this game, and it's worth it to me."
Dan Hampton is 28.