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Alex Hawkins

 

Article Provided by The Gamecock Newspaper
By: Alex Riley
Assistant Sports Editor

Issue date: 10/21/05 Section: Friday Football Blitz

Running back Alex Hawkins played for the NFLs Baltimore Colts.
Running back Alex Hawkins played for the NFLs Baltimore Colts.

 

"They were paying me," Alex Hawkins said with a laugh.

If there ever was a man to give a straightforward, unsugarcoated answer, it is Alex Hawkins. During his heyday, Hawkins was the epitome of a "colorful" player. He was touted as a player who was his own coach's nightmare Monday through Friday and the opposing team's coach's nightmare Saturday. So when asked why he came from South Charleston High in West Virginia to play for the Gamecock football squad, he held no punches as to his real motives.

"No, that is the truth," Hawkins said. "I had a guy from Kentucky offer me a farm if I would go there. I wasn't a really good farmer. I never even asked him how big of a farm or what kind or anything. Every school that recruited me had some kind of financial offer."

Even with promises ranging from tuition aid to livestock, Hawkins came to Carolina set to play for then-coach Rex Enright. But because of his failing health, Enright resigned before Hawkins was promoted from the freshman team to the varsity squad, and new coach Warren Giese ran a much different ship.

"There were 51 players who were getting paid more than your average scholarship," Hawkins said. "Giese canceled everything. I was supposed to get a car my second year and whatnot. It was $1,500 a semester, and then clothes and trips home. He came in and said 'That's it, no more payoffs. Anybody that doesn't like it, submit three teams that you'd like me to recommend you to.' So I said Kentucky and some other schools that had offered me some money. It never dawned on me he wouldn't call any of them."

Not leaving Columbia might have been one of the best moves in USC football history, as the teams from 1956 to 1958 posted a 19-11 overall record, including two 7-3 seasons with wins against Georgia, North Carolina State, Duke and Clemson.

"We had three good seasons," Hawkins said. "We went 7-3 our sophomore year, went 5-5 our second year, we went 7-3 again and we came one missed ball away from going to the Orange Bowl our senior year. But, on that squad that Rex Enright assembled and Giese added on to, that was back when there was only 12 teams in the NFL. We had 10 athletes play professional football for three or more years."

"We had some good matchups with North Carolina State," Hawkins said. "We had good, down-to-the-wire games with them every year. And Duke used to be a powerhouse, and I know that's hard to believe now."

There were two halves to the success of the team - a flamboyant Hawkins and a much milder player named King Dixon. Both backs starred at USC, even though they couldn't have been more different.

"King and I were frighteningly unalike," Hawkins said. "I was in the pool room when he was in the library studying. I was in the beer joints; he was in church and going to class. You know silly things like that. We were just total opposites except for when it came to the day of the game. On the football field, we just got along beautifully."

After being selected as a team captain for his senior campaign, Hawkins guided the Gamecocks to a 7-3 finish and almost a spot in postseason play. He finished his career with 1,490 yards rushing, good enough for 21st on the all-time USC list. His efforts didn't go unnoticed, as he earned the honor of ACC Player of the Year. Hawkins also earned spots on the AP third-team All-America squad and Senior Bowl team.

"I richly deserved it. I'm just kidding," Hawkins said, laughing. "No, I did have a good senior year. I was as good as anybody in the conference. Of course the conference wasn't as good then as it is today."

All the accolades were enough to earn Hawkins a selection in the NFL draft, as the Green Bay Packers picked the USC standout in the second round.

"At that time, I was the 13th person picked in the draft, and there were only 12 teams in professional football," Hawkins said. "This was Vince Lombardi's first year. And he and I got along about like oil and water. And of course you know who's going to win in a battle like that."

The Packers traded Hawkins to the Baltimore Colts, where he got along a little better with his coaches and teammates. What Hawkins got out of that trade was a chance at 1959 glory.

"He shipped me off to Baltimore for the first game of the season, and (Don) Shula worked a nothing-for-nothing trade to get me, as he put it," Hawkins said. "I walked right into a world championship my first year. It was a thrill. And playing with the great athletes that I did: Lenny More, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker and just hall of famer after hall of famer. It was just a thrill to be a part of a winning organization. And of course, nine of the 10 years I played, I was always in to a championship or runner-up."

Though he was a solid reserve for the Colts, Hawkins wanted to see if he could make it in the league as a starter. The opportunity arose when the Atlanta Falcons became the NFL's newest expansion team.

"I was a backup halfback, backup fullback with the Colts; I was a back wide receiver, both right and left," Hawkins said. "My career was coming to a close, and I wanted to be a starter and see if I could play because I saw teams who had starters that I thought weren't as good as I was. So I asked (Shula) to put me on the list if they had an expansion team. He made good on his word, and they picked me up."

Almost as quickly as he arrived at the Falcons' preseason training, he was ready to get out.

"I never will forget. Tt was the second day of training camp, we were training in Blackville, N.C.," Hawkins said. "And there's just nothing up there. Nothing whatsoever. I was used to being in the nightlife and all that, and I called Shula and said 'You've got to get me out of here.' And he said 'Is it tough?' I said 'We haven't practiced yet, but I can't stay here for four months.' He said, 'A deal's a deal. You're there. Goodbye.'

Hawkins only stayed a year in Atlanta before his pleading with Shula landed him back in Baltimore, where he would finish his career beside one of the most storied quarterbacks in NFL history.

"John Unitas, there's no doubt in my mind that if he wasn't the best quarterback in the world, he was certainly one of the two or three best," Hawkins said. "He'd play with injuries other people wouldn't even dream of playing with. He couldn't even lace his high-top shoes up with a sprained ankle. He went ahead and played and never made a complaint or anything."

Success kept Hawkins in the spotlight years after his playing days were finished. He went on to do commentary work for Atlanta along with advertising spots in magazines. He also showed off his linguistic skill, writing three books - the first, of course, called "My Story and I'm Sticking to It."

Now, the man his teammates nicknamed "The Hawk" spends his time on the links, playing golf whenever he can, which tends to be pretty often. He also attends functions with USC and South Carolina's halls of fame and is a member of both.

"One of the main reasons I came back to South Carolina because when I left West Virginia, the people of South Carolina adopted me and accepted me," Hawkins said. "The people of South Carolina do not forget. They have a great respect for age and some other areas don't. They have a tremendous loyalty to old people and damn it, I'm old."