In 2008, Ryan Clark good naturedly chastised the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America for voting him The Chief Award because he believed it signified his swift departure.
That’s the way Clark had viewed the media “good guy” award while he played for the Washington Redskins, and even the year before in Pittsburgh Clark had watched Alan Faneca accept The Chief Award as a departing gift.
And last year’s winner?
Where have you gone, James Farrior?
So it’s with sadness, perhaps, that selected members of the media voted Casey Hampton the winner of this year’s Chief Award. His contract’s up, his backup’s time has come, and so Hampton’s friendly nature was rewarded by some of the local writers.
Still, Hampton, the 12th-year vet who’ll make his 164th start Sunday for the Steelers since being drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft, expressed his gratitude.
“I appreciate the award,” he said. “I appreciate you guys voting for me. It’s definitely an honor to win the award named after the founder of this organization. I just appreciate it.”
The selected writers also voted for second-round draft pick Mike Adams as the team’s Rookie of the Year, while Mike Tomlin counted the player votes that named tight end Heath Miller as the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player.
Miller underwent surgery for a torn ACL in his right knee yesterday and wasn’t available to make his acceptance speech after catching a team-high 71 passes for a 816 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Adams hopes to return for some bit parts Sunday in the finale after a sprained ankle cost him the last four games. Adams did make a string of six starts at right tackle and thanked right guard Ramon Foster – “an older guy who helped me out a lot” – before nodding in the direction of Marcus Gilbert, last year’s Rookie of the Year and the player Adams had to replace in the lineup because of injury.
“It feels good to keep it in the offensive line room,” said Adams, who’ll join a healthy Gilbert next year as young tackles who’ll likely push free-agent veteran Max Starks out for good.
The situation is similar with Hampton. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is being pushed by young nose tackle Steve McLendon.
“I know the type of player he is and I said all that time that he’s the guy who’s going to push me out of here,” Hampton said. “I understand that. I know what type of player he is. It’s just the nature of the business. I’m the type of guy that doesn’t worry about stuff he doesn’t have control over. I’m going to help that guy anyway I can. He’s going to be a great player in this league. He just continues to get better.”
Hampton, though, is playing well. McLendon said earlier in the week he thinks Hampton has two or three good years left in him. But the Steelers will need to whittle salaries to get under the cap again, and a player such as Hampton isn’t likely to accept a minimum wage.
“You’re right,” said defensive end Brett Keisel, who has lined up next to Hampton for most of his career. “The nature of this business is to get younger and have a good group of core young guys who are rising stars. It’s a reality. It is. I hope and feel like Casey’s played well enough that he could still do it. I feel like he’s a rock for me in here. I love having him in the locker room with me. I love just being around the guy. I know it’s a reality, but it’s tough for me to think about coming in here and not seeing him in here.”