DECATUR — Chicago Bears legend Dan Hampton has picked an auspicious time to make his first trip to Decatur.
The Bears will celebrate their 100th anniversary as a franchise this season and the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee will finally get to visit the city where it all began.
"I’m a history buff about everything and it will be great to be in Decatur on the 100th anniversary," Hampton said. "One hundred years ago George Halas had a little plan that he put together in your fair city and I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve been a part of the Bears for 40 years and never made it through Decatur so that in itself is exciting to me."
Hampton will deliver the keynote address at Decatur's Community Leaders Breakfast, sponsored by the Herald & Review, Tate & Lyle, Land of Lincoln Credit Union and the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel, on Thursday, April 4.
The breakfast will be hosted at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel, 1191 U.S. 36 West. Doors open at 6 a.m. and breakfast will be served at 7 a.m. The keynote address will follow at 7:30 a.m. Tickets for the event cost $20.
Also speaking will be Aliyah Houston, 14, a Dennis School student who took second place in the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project/Illinois Judicial Council Oratorical Tournament held in Chicago.
Jarrett Payton, a broadcaster and son of Bears legend Walter Payton, was keynote speaker at the October breakfast.
Hampton's keynote message will focus on building a champion, a process the Super Bowl champion experienced in his 12 years with the Bears.
"When (general manager) Jim Finks got there, the Bears were basically a laughing stock and even though we made the playoffs in 1979 nobody respected us and yet six seasons later we were the preeminent team in all of football," Hampton said. "Great teams are built and it takes a special type of individual to do it and I’m going to be talking about the types of players and people that we were able to carry the water and build the team brick-by-brick and block-by-block."
Hampton was drafted by the Bears in 1979 from the University of Arkansas where he saw great success, including at 1978 Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma. When the Bears struggled through a 6-10 season in 1981 and 3-6 in 1982, it weighed heavily on Hampton.
"In my four years at Arkansas we were ranked in the top five or six three times. I didn’t want to win, I had to win. It drove me crazy at first that we weren’t good," he said. "I did everything in my power to improve it and with guys like Mike Singletary and Steve McMichael we looked in the mirror and thought this is the guy that is going to change things."
The 1985 Super Bowl winning-team combined a unique groups of coaches and players that is remembered as an all-time great squad.
"Going 18-1 and killing the Patriots and shutting out two teams in the playoffs -- which hadn’t been done before -- it was amazing," Hampton said. "When you start looking at the cast of characters, you have Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Singletary, Richard Dent, McMichael, William 'The Refrigerator' Perry -- who basically took the country by storm that year -- and on about four different levels that team transcends just normal sporting teams and I was there from the ground floor up."
Hampton was excited to see a revitalized Bears return to the playoffs last season with a team built around defense.
"For eight years they were abysmal and I couldn’t wait for new blood. (Bears head coach) Matt Nagy has a favorable wind at his back -- nobody got hurt and the defense came together with the monster trade for Khalil Mack -- but this year is going to be tougher," Hampton said. "Nobody is going to be sleeping when they play the Bears and I played on those types of teams.
"After winning the Super Bowl we went 14-2 and everybody knew who we were and we thought ‘so what?’ They are going to get a lot of that this year and I hope that they respond favorably."
Hampton is passionate about his philanthropic work that includes the Par Fore the Cause charity golf tournament and the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, an organization started by Ditka to raise funds for retired NFL players in need.
"It was embarrassing the lack of support that the NFL and Roger Goodell have offered to support the legends. There are a lot of players that played the game that made virtually nothing and need some type of financial aid of this time," Hampton said. "It’s incomprehensible that they refuse. The NFL has been an embarrassment on the issue but we continue to press on."
Although it took some time for Hampton to make his first appearance in Decatur, he will quickly return this summer as a member of the Chicago 6 -- a musical trio comprised of him, McMichael and former Bear Otis Wilson. The group will play at the Devon G. Buffett Amphitheater in Nelson Park on Aug. 10.
"I just love the band. We played off and on for three or four years and then went dormant and in 2013, I was asked 'Why don’t you put the band back together?' and I didn't have an answer," Hampton said. "We've played about 150 shows now and we have had a lot of fun with it and we keep on rocking."