Updated, 4:40 p.m. ET
Bill Hampton, the longtime, well-respected equipment manager of the New York Jets from 1964, shortly after their start, until his retirement after the 2000 season, has died. He was 86.
Hampton, a native New Yorker who retired to Jacksonville, FL, has been described as "an all-time great Jet." During his almost four decades in the Jets equipment room at their then base of operations at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, he became one of the handful of people who were always on the Green & White scene, linking one year and one era of Jets football to another.
"Hamp was a very special person. When you came into the Jets organization, he took time to get to know you and to bring you into his family," recalled Marty Lyons, the radio voice of the Jets who spent many hours in Hampton's equipment room as a Jets player from 1977-89. "And any conversation you have about Hamp that begins with 'Remember when...' is going to end in laughter. That's what he did. I don't remember spending any time with him when you didn't laugh."
"Bill was a friend, mentor, counselor and father to Jets players for decades," said Frank Ramos, the team's public relations director for as long as Hampton was equipment manager. "Along with his wife, Dottie, they headed up the Jets family for hundreds of Jets players. He will be sorely missed."
Bill also got the reputation for inventiveness in the equipment room. He and Dottie designed the first pockets to be stitched onto a football jersey. The weather was cold and windy all week leading up to the Jets playing the Raiders at Shea Stadium for the AFL Championship on Dec. 29, 1968. In advance of that game, Dottie sewed pockets onto the jersey fronts of QB Joe Namath and his running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.
The cold weather was the impetus for another Hampton sight adjustment: pantyhose for the players to wear for warmth under their uniforms. Joe Namath's celebrated Hanes Beautymist pantyhose TV commercial in 1973 was inspired by the football hose Jets players sometimes wore on the field.
Hampton, born and raised in Astoria, Queens, NY, got his start in sports as a stick boy for the New York Rangers in 1945. He worked his way up to assistant trainer and equipment man, taking time out for a two-year tour with the Army in 1951-52.
Almost 20 years later, the Jets, who had just opened shop after the Titans of New York folded, were looking for an equipment manager. He signed on in 1964, the year that Shea Stadium opened its doors.
Hampton's sons have extended their father's legacy into the present day. Clay Hampton succeeded Bill as equipment manager in 2001 and is currently the Jets' senior director, team operations, in his 25th year with the team and in the NFL.
Clay's brother, Drew, was the Jacksonville Jaguars' equipment manager. Bill Jr., who worked with his father on the Jets through 1992 and served as vice president of operations for the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2006, died in 2011. Also in the Hampton family are daughter Beth Ann and sons Brian and Derek.
Hampton's presence will continue to be felt in the equipment room at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, NJ, with the Bill Hampton Award, which has been presented annually since 2004 to the Jets' "rookie who acts like a pro in the locker room" as voted on by the equipment staff.
"Mr. Hampton could tell right away when a guy showed up what kind of a pro he would be in the locker room," said Gus Granneman, well aware of continuing the "Hamp" tradition as only the third different equipment manager in the Jets phase of the franchise's history. "We try to carry on his principles of doing everything in a classy manner and treating every player as part of the Jets family. He made every day at work enjoyable not only for us in the equipment room but for all those that came through."
The family will have a private burial for Hampton. Details regarding a memorial service will be provided in the weeks ahead.