Instead of fixating on the 'story' of James Harrison's incident this past weekend, I'd insead like to talk about something more positive and fun. It dawned on me this weekend that many Steelers fans, myself included at times, perhaps are not aware of just how great of a player Casey Hampton has been for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2000, the year before the Steelers drafted Casey Hampton with the 19th overall pick of the 1st round, the Steelers sported the #12 ranked rush defense. Not bad, but not great either.
Since Hampton's arrival?
Hampton's love may still be for the Lone Star State, but he's been terrorizing defenses
in Pittsburgh for nearly a decade now
(Disclaimer: I didn't specifically look for that picture, and I had no idea that website existed. It was just one of the first matches in my google search. We love you Casey. Please don't hurt me. Seriously, you can snap me in half with your left pinky.)
The numbers don't lie. This guy simply dominates the trenches. Always has, dating back to his days at the University of Texas, where he finished as the 11th all-time leading tackler in school history. If you think about that feat, it's actually remarkable, as nose tackles usually aren't the ones who get the glory of bringing down opposing players. That's been the case in the NFL, where Hampton has not finished a season with more than 27 tackles. But don't let that fool you. Opposing offenses spend lots of capital dealing with Big Snack, and our linebackers over the years have been the beneficiaries.
Hampton may be 30 years old (he'll turn 31 around opening day in 2008), but I honestly don't see him slowing down too much anytime soon. Without all the facts in front of me, allow me to assert that it's my understanding that DTs are able to continue taking up space and playing at a high level well into their 30s. I expect a big rebound year from Hampton in '08. He certainly didn't play poorly in 2007, but I personally think he was dealing with a nagging minor injury that didn't keep him from playing, but kept him from dominating as demonstrably as he has in years past. A former teamate of his said on the radio last Friday in my hometown market that Hampton was the toughest player he had ever played with or against. He said he not once heard Hampton complain about a thing, which led me to believe that perhpas Hampton was a bit dinged up yet played through it.
Anyway, Hampton, a 4-time Pro-Bowler (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007), should be remembered as one of the greats of Steelers' lore. When you think Steelers football, you think smash-mouth physical football. That may not be the case as much anymore on the offensive side of the ball, but, despite our problems in the later parts of '07, this defense is still one of the better units in the league, and most of it starts up front with Hampton and his sidekick Aaron Smith. You take him or Smith out of the fold and all of a sudden, guys like Farrior, Foote and Haggans seem fairly pedestrian. In fact, I'll say with confidence that many a LB have gotten (over)paid largely due to the work of Hampton behind the scenes.
With just two years remaining on his large contract, it will be interesting to see what Colbert and the Rooneys decide to do with Big Snack moving forward. You just don't find guys like him every year in the draft, so despite his age, I'd like to see him stay on with the club through 2011 at least.