Most people don't think Civil War when the Jets and the Jaguars do battle, but there is a trophy at stake Sunday afternoon and one family's loyalties will be divided.
It's a story that has escaped the headlines this week, but Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew made note of it Wednesday morning during a conference call with New York reporters.
"It's something called the Hampton Cup," Jones-Drew said. "Obviously, we have Drew Hampton here. The Jets have Clay Hampton. I guess they have a cup for every time the Jaguars and Jets play. It's a pretty big deal for our equipment guy and I guess their former equipment guy, so it's going to be a lot of rivalry tied up in this game — not only with the players but with the staff."
Clay Hampton, who for the past four years has served as the Jets' senior director of operations after a 16-year stint in the equipment department, was told of Jones' quote and immediately thought of his older brother. Two years Clay's senior, 43-year-old Drew Hampton has been the Jags equipment manager since 1998.
"Drew probably gave [Jones-Drew] a note that said, 'We're going to kick their butt,' " said Clay with a smile.
You don't say the name Hampton in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center without thinking Jets football. For the better part of four decades, the legendary Bill Hampton was the Green & White's equipment manager until retiring in 2001. Clay, a former Jets ballboy who began his career at Shea Stadium in 1983, fondly recalls a time when all five of the Hampton boys worked for the club.
"Drew was working in the visiting locker room, Derek, myself and Billy were working in the equipment department, and my brother Brian was the home locker room attendant," Clay said. "That's the memory I'll have at the Meadowlands. As young adults, we were all working there on Sunday with my father. In this day and age, it's just hard to spend time with your family, you're often apart, and we have to go to work with my dad for a large part of our childhood. How many kids get a chance to do that?"
The Hampton Cup traces its origins to 2002. Billy Hampton, the vice president of operations for the Browns at that time, came up with the trophy idea because the Browns, Jets and Jags would all play each other that season. When Billy left the Browns in '04, the trophy was contested by just two Hampton brothers.
Drew got the upper hand on Clay in '02 when the Jags beat the Jets, 28-3, in Jacksonville. And when Drew and the Jags returned to the Meadowlands the following November, he had the cup with him and his chest was out a little bit.
"I have vivid memories because Dave Szott [the Jets' director of player development] was a player for us at that time," Clay said. "It was a 1 o'clock game and it must have been 9 in the morning and hardly anybody was there yet. Drew walked in and Szott was there and he starts talking trash to Szott. He says, 'Yeah, I'm going to be drinking beer out of this thing when I get home today. We're going to kick your butt.' "
Never mind that Szott had never met Drew Hampton before. Things would escalate later when Szott took the cup on the field in pregame and said, "You see this thing? We're going to win this thing today.' "
The Jets did get the Hampton Cup back in Clay's hands as Chad Pennington connected with Santana Moss on a 3-yard scoring toss with 26 seconds left to cap a 13-10 comeback victory. Bill Hampton, who has assisted Drew on game days in J-ville since his retirement from the Jets, met Clay outside the Jags' locker room.
"I said, 'Just tell Drew I'm out here,' " Clay said. "So my dad went in and he didn't come back out with Drew. I didn't know if he was going to come out. A couple of minutes later, he came out and shook my hand and was like, 'All right, bro, it was good seeing you. I'll talk to you next week or in a couple of weeks.' And that was it. He turned around and walked away and I didn't talk to him the rest of the time."
The Hampton Cup changed hands again in 2006 when the Jags shut out the Jets, 41-0, in J-Ville. Clay said he didn't have any difficulty finding this brother that afternoon as Drew was smiling ear-to-ear upon their postgame handshake.
"He's more in-your-face, not afraid to get the needle up a little bit more," Clay said. "I'm more quietly competitive where it's more overt with him."
The competition continues this weekend. Drew, accompanied by his dad — who just happens to be one of the most legendary figures in the history of the Jets — will once again come to town and get the Jags prepared for another game. And Clay Hampton hopes the Green & White can take the next one in the series, enabling the Hampton Cup to move north.
It doesn't get any better than love, hate and the Hampton Cup. The brothers may be fond of each other, but they despise losing. And in that respect, nothing has changed since they were tykes with Mr. Hampton at Shea Stadium.
"We were running around and the New York City Police just knew us as Bill's kids and we could just run right into the stadium. We didn't need a ticket or anything," Clay said. "When we were at Shea, we were all together before even my brothers got out of high school. It was really football. If we lost, it would change the mood of the house and then we'd start fighting. Win = Good and loss = bad."