One of Drew Hampton’s favorite childhood memories is of an iconic NFL quarterback and his car.
“Joe Willie and his big, white Eldorado,” the Maryland football team’s equipment manager recalled with a laugh.
Hampton, 51, has vivid recollections of seeing Joe Namath drive away from New York Jets training camp at Hofstra on Long Island in his Cadillac convertible — always with the top down.
“Joe just had an aura about him,” Hampton said, sitting in his office at the Gossett Team house Friday. “Even if you were young, you knew that was Joe Willie. It was cool, whether you saw him on ‘The Brady Bunch’ or the Hamilton Beach popcorn makers.”
Unlike most young fans, Hampton had a special connection to Namath and the Jets. It was one that led to his longtime profession and, ultimately, the Terps.
Hampton’s late father, Bill, was the equipment manager for the Jets from 1964, their first season in Shea Stadium, until his retirement in 2001. Drew’s younger brother, Clay, took over when their father retired and is now the team’s senior director of operations.
In fact, all five brothers — Bill Jr., Drew, Brian, Derek and Clay— worked at one time or another for the Jets in what became the family business. Bill Jr. would be named vice president of operations for the Cleveland Browns and later worked for Under Armour before he died unexpectedly in 2011.
“Most kids went to summer camp,” Drew said Thursday. “We went to training camp.”
Said Clay: “I think it’s akin to military families or police families or the fire department. You probably model your parents.”
Shea Stadium, where the Jets played until moving in 1984 to Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, was something of a playground for the Hampton siblings.The players became “an extension of your family,” Drew said. “They were like another sibling, another brother.”
Wide receiver George Sauer Jr. rented a bedroom from one of the Hamptons’ neighbors on Long Island’s South Shore. Defensive tackle John Elliott lived across the street.
“On their day off, players used to come to our house after they lifted weights — Freeman McNeil, Ken O’Brien. They’d spend time, barbecue. We’d play tackle football field in the field adjacent to our house, and they would be the quarterback for the teams,“ Clay recalled.
Beth Hampton Wallace, the eldest of the family’s six siblings, went to work on Wall Street but is still in touch with many of the old Jets. When she sees them, it stirs memories of her 12th birthday in July 1969.
“We were all at George Sauer’s house, watching the men landing on the moon, holding American flags,” Wallace said Friday.
Drew Hampton knew from an early age that he wanted to follow his father into the family business.
“I remember sitting in class daydreaming, like a lot of kids do when they’re young: I wish I was with my dad. I wish was in the Jets’ facility,” he said. “I want to be an equipment manager just like he is.”
Hampton went to work for the Jets after graduating from high school and eventually became an equipment manager for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1996, where he remained for 15 years until new ownership cleaned house.
After a year apiece under Bobby Petrino and Jeff Brohm at Western Kentucky, Hampton returned to Jacksonville, Fla., to take a job with a football training-equipment manufacturer so that he could be closer to his father following his mother’s death in 2013.
“Family is so important growing up,” said Hampton, the father of three teenage daughters. “I wanted my kids to be around their grandfather. I didn’t know how long he was going to be alive. He was a curmudgeon, but he was fun to be around.”
Bill Hampton died in 2015, at age 86, after injuries he suffered in a car accident led to complications with his kidney.
“The calls that you get from so many people, ex-players like Joe Namath — everybody called to express their condolences,” Drew said. “It’s a testament to him. My dad knew everybody. He was one of those guys who went out of his way to try to help people.”
Drew Hampton and his daughters were out shopping on Christmas Eve in 2015 when he received a call from an old friend, Jason Baisden, whom newly hired Maryland coach DJ Durkin had just promoted to assistant athletic director for football and equipment.operations.
“I was wondering, ‘What does Jason need?’ ” recalled Hampton. “He said, ‘Do you have any interest in coming to the University of Maryland?’ My kids saw this excitement on my face. They knew I was overwhelmed with joy when it happened. I could have done cartwheels.”
Those feelings have only grown since Hampton moved his family up to Howard County. His eldest daughter, Paige, is in her sophomore year at Maryland, and his middle daughter, Peyton (yes, named for Manning), a senior in high school, is hoping to come next year.
“I love being part of Maryland football, working with these kids and Coach Durkin,” Hampton said. “This is home.”
The business has certainly changed since Hampton was growing up in it.
When Hampton’s father was equipment manager for the Jets, Bill and his wife, Dottie, had a home and road uniform onto which they could sew a sleeve so that players could warm their hands in cold weather. (Bill also had them wear pantyhose to keep their legs warm, leading to one of Namath’s most famous commercials, for Hanes’ Beautymist.)
“Back then, the perception was that the equipment manager was the socks-and-jocks guy,” Drew Hampton said. “You’d wash all the dirty stuff, which we still do a lot of. Now you really have to stay abreast of new technology.
“You have to understand when there’s new products being developed, new products being introduced, being tested and the results of those tests. You have to understand how to take that information down and how it’s going to affect your program in a positive way.”
Hampton knows how important that information might become.
“What you’re putting on their head, what you’re putting on their feet, what you’re putting on their shoulders is going to affect them, maybe for the rest of their life if you don’t do a good job,” Hampton said. “There’s a lot of responsibility there.”
What hasn’t changed are the long hours or the excitement of wins.
“I usually get here about 5, 5:30 every morning. I try to get out of here 7, 8 o’clock at night,” Hampton said. “You can give me $100,000 more a year to work in a cubicle, and I wouldn’t do it. I love this. Sometimes I love when it’s really stressful. There’s nothing else I'd rather be doing.
“When you get a chance to walk out on that field on Saturday and the ball kicks off and you’re a part of that, that’s really cool. When Coach Durkin comes in the locker room with a smile on his face and he has a ton of energy and the team’s jumping around, you can’t find that anywhere.”
Looking back at his childhood and the career that brought him to Maryland, there is another memory that still brings a smile to Hampton’s face. It revolves around the first time he took a girl out on a date. He was 15, and didn’t yet have his driver’s license.
“Freeman McNeil drove me and my date to a movie theater in West Islip in his black Porsche 911,” recalled Hampton. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I was geeked up about it. I don’t think it led to a second date, but I loved it.”