/RIP Hamp Cook, 86, a Hall of Famer in so many ways

RIP Hamp Cook, 86, a Hall of Famer in so many ways

Hamp, who was 86 when he died in early December morning, had all the boxes for “best guy”. He was genuinely kind, honest and funny, dependable, tough, loving, proud, humble, loyal, and dependable. He was my father’s best friend. He was a close friend of mine. Hamp was an All American Football player at Mississippi Southern College in the 1950s. He was a guard and a linebacker on the defense. Although he was small, he was strong and fast. He also had a bigger heart than Georgiana (Alabama), which was where he was born. Although I don’t remember Hamp as a player, this is a first-hand account by my dad, who wrote about Hamp in those days and later loved him as his brother. I was familiar with Southern’s back-to-back wins over Alabama in 1953, 1954 and 1954. Hamp was a star player both in these victories and in those over Georgia, Florida State and other Southern teams that were not supposed to be beaten. This will tell you a lot about Hamp Cook. He sacked Bart Starr, the legendary player in the 1954 win over Alabama. I didn’t know this until a friend told me 50 years later. Hamp replied, “That’s quite a deal, man.” Why haven’t you told me about it? Hamp smiled, and thought about it for a while. “It was a big deal back then. But it would have been even bigger if I knew that Bart Starr would become Bart Starr.” Hamp was, in many ways, the last man standing from an era of Southern Miss athletics. Reed Green was the athletic director, Pie Vann, and later P.W. Head football coaches were Underwood. Lee Floyd was the basketball coach. Pete Taylor was the baseball coach. All of them are Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer. Many of those athletes were veterans of war. They were a family. A close, proud family. Vann would eventually hire Hamp to coach his offensive lines. Southern was a strong defense team and had a great kicker. Vann placed his best athletes on defense, believing that “they can’t beat them if they can score.” This meant Hamp was always coaching Hamp’s second- and third-best offensive line athletes. You could not be fast enough or athletic enough to play on the defensive line. Instead, you would become offensive linemen. These were Hamp’s men. As they say in coaching, he coached them up. He loved his men and they loved him back. They worked hard for him. Although they failed at times, they didn’t give up because they were trying. His magnetic personality made Hamp one of Vann’s most successful recruiters. Willie Heidelburg, Ray Guy and many others were just two of the USM heroes Hamp helped to recruit. Funny story: In 1970 Southern beat Johnny Vaught, Ole Miss and Archie Manning by 30-14. This was the most remarkable upset I have ever witnessed in more than 50 years of covering Mississippi sports. Heidelburg jitterbugged twice into the end zone on two 11-yard runs using the same reverse play. He was not touched either. Hamp said, “I couldn’t wait to go back to the filmroom and see how well my men had blocked those touchdowns.” We got back, and I watched the film, and my guys didn’t block anyone. Willie just avoided them all.” Cook coaxed Guy to Hattiesburg by promising him he could play a position, not just a kicking specialist. Guy was told by Bear Bryant in Alabama and Vince Dooley from Georgia that he wasn’t worth much as a punter or placekicker and that he wouldn’t be able to play defensive back. Guy reached USM and P.W. Underwood, the head coach made one of the most strategic moves ever. He told his coaches that “this isn’t an attack.” It’s a promise. You are fired if you try to teach that Guy to kick or punt. Hamp was a New Orleans Saints Scout when he left USM in early 1970s. Two reasons he outlasted all coaches and scouts were that he was great at what he did and everyone loved and respected him, even Archie Manning, his star quarterback. Manning was not afraid to make a few jokes on his friend. Hamp would often leave Saints camp to go back to Hattiesburg on Friday afternoons in order to catch a college football match. He would almost always ice down a beer with the Saints’ ice maker before he left. Hamp Cook loved cold beer. He was once called upon to do another task while he was busy with the beer-icing job. Bobby Scott, another Saints quarterback finished it for him. However, they exchanged the beer for Gatorade. Manning said, “I wish I could have been there when Hamp got from Slidell or Picayune to grab a cold beer.” Jim Finks, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, took over the Saints’ bumbling, inept team and made them a true, honest-to God NFL team. Finks did a lot of the housework, but he also recognized Hamp’s talent as well as his loyalty and kept him. He also assigned Hamp ex-Saints player Hokie to Hamp as a Scout. They were like father and son. Hamp had scouted Hokie while he was at LSU. “Hokie wasn’t as fast as you would like at that position, but I gave him an plus-plus grade due to how hard he played and how tough he was. “Plus-plus” would also describe Hamp as a coach, player, scout and friend. In his final hours after a long and difficult battle with cancer, he was surrounded by his three children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Chuck, Hamp’s oldest son and a USM Hall of Fame football star, said that his father was an NFL Scout. He also described his final hours as “We all just loved him.” Hamp knew that he was loved.” The visitation will start at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian. Memorial donations can be made to the M Club Foundation of USM or the Community of Christ Church of Georgiana, Ala.
in lieu of flowers.