On a recent morning, Mike Hamby illustrator, painter, sculptor, country-western singer-songwriter, professional football player, T-shirt and toy designer, outdoorsman, devotee of Indian culture - could be found sitting in his small and cramped quarters in Salt Lake City. But not for long. There's little time for sitting these days. There is an injury to rehabilitate, contracts to sign, a regular job to find, offers to consider and dozens of projects to finish - and start.
"I'm really excited about this bronze sculpture I just finished," he says, leaning forward in his chair, his eyes growing wide. "I wish it was here. I'd show it to you. It's the neatest thing I've done . . ."During the next hour it becomes apparent that Hamby is equally passionate about many of his projects and plans. "I've got to finish that poster for (Jim) Kelly," he says, pointing to a picture of the NFL quarterback in the corner. "We're going to market that." . . . "See that picture of that horse? That's going to a guy in Seattle." . . . "I've already finished two Darby books. I've got to start on the third one. I want to see it become a Saturday morning cartoon." . . . "I'd like to work as an illustrator here in Utah. I don't want to leave the state, but jobs are hard to find." . . . "I'm going to Nashville this summer. I'm going to give it a shot. I've cut my own demo record." . . . "I play guitar and drums. I'd like to learn piano."
Hold it here. Wait just a minute. Even a 26-year-old bachelor must sleep, although Hamby seems to prefer not to. "I'll just get a wild hair and start a new project," he says. "I really need to get organized. I need an agent."
For Hamby, a man of endless energy and a mane of shoulder-length brown hair, these days are filled with beginnings and possibilities. But there is other pressing business to attend to. He must discover, finally, if his football career is finished.
Hamby, a 6-foot-51/2, 270-pound defensive tackle from Utah State and Lehi, has had to put his football career with the Buffalo Bills on hold because of an injury. Again. It all began his rookie season (1985), when he underwent surgery for a knee injury and woke up with a hip injury. Don't worry, it doesn't make sense to doctors or Hamby, either. Hamby managed to play the '86 season, backing up superstar Bruce Smith and playing as the Bills' fourth lineman in passing situations. He started two games and had two sacks and harrassed his old buddy Steve Young a few times.
But two weeks into the '87 training camp, he collapsed. He has had three hip operations since then, and doctors have been unable to diagnose the problem. "I've never been hit in the hip," he said. "It never bothered me before. It was just there when I woke up from knee surgery. Some doctors think my leg might have been twisted out during the surgery."
Hamby, who has been on the NFL's unable-to-perform list for two years, recently began therapy. If that fails, he'll have more surgery - and his career will probably be finished. "I want to play football so badly," he says. "Maybe this is God's way of telling me to do something else."
Such as art. Even while he was playing football in Buffalo, Hamby would return from football practice, march straight to his bedroom and sit on the edge of his bed making sketches for hours at a time. One thing eventually led to another. He did portraits of teammates and their families. He did several drawings for the Bills' offices. When Ray Bentley, a starting linebacker for the Bills, saw Hamby's work, a partnership was born. Bentley had authored several children's books - about Darby the Dinosaur - for his own kids. All he needed was an illustrator. Hamby agreed to undertake the project, but didn't work on it until he was bedridden in the hospital.
Some 40 publishers are now bidding for the publishing rights. What's more, Hanna-Barbera, Hasbro, Mattel and Fisher-Price are bidding for the rights to turn Darby into a toy and/or a cartoon. Even before the book has gone into print, the project and its creators have received advance publicity. Bentley and Hamby have been featured in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today and on ABC World News.
"Football has opened doors for me," says Hamby.
While waiting out the negotiations, Hamby is trying to succeed on his own as an artist. "Anything but hard labor," he says. He is completing portraits of All-Pro teammates Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan and Kelly, which they plan to market as posters. He plans to illustrate a third Darby book. He has just completed a set of T-shirts featuring his artwork, which he plans to market. He recently completed his first sculpture, of an Indian, entitled "Lost but not Forgotten." And then there are the numerous paintings and sketches that are scattered around his living room, all in various stages of completion.
Indians, cowboys, mountain men, horses and rough western landscape dominate his recent work. "It's western art, mixed with my love of the Indians," he says. "I respect the Indian culture so much. Lost, but not forgotten." Some of his work has a traditional Southwestern bent to it; others have, well, Hamby's own style. One portrait looks like an Indian who doubles as a guitarist for KISS. Another sketch - precisely drawn and minutely detailed - features a muscular, bare-chested Indian who looks like he just stepped out of Gold's Gym. "That Indian has done a few steroids," said ABC's Dick Schaap. Hamby has sold such work for $800 to $1,000.
Even before he began earning money for his art, Hamby was and is driven to draw and paint. He travels Utah "up and down," armed with a sketch pad, camera and mountain bike, exploring mountains, deserts, Canyonlands and Indian ruins in search of ideas. When working, Hamby will nap in the afternoon, then work until 3 or 4 in the morning. "It's peaceful then," he explains. "You don't have to worry about the phone ringing and people coming by."
Somehow there's a clash of images - the sensitive artist and the brawling defensive lineman (who wraps his drawing hand in miles of tape before a game) - but it has always been so for Hamby. He was an all-state lineman for Lehi High School and an all-conference lineman at Utah State, where he is best remembered for sacking the elusive Young four times in one game. That alone might have made him the first pick of the sixth round in the '85 NFL draft.
While at Utah State, Hamby majored in illustration - after a lifetime of practice. "Since I was a little kid, I loved to draw," he recalls. "Instead of playing outside with my friends, I'd stay in the house and draw." In high school he made sketches on his desk during class, to the annoyance of teachers.
These days he is turning his considerable energies elsewhere, as well. During the NFL strike two years ago, Hamby, whose parents Dave and Dorothy had their own country-western band, made a demo record, playing the drums and guitars himself. This summer he plans to take his two guitars and the eight songs he has written to Nashville, hoping to strike another deal.
"I know there's life after football for me," says Hamby, who seems bound to prove it.