- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
My career as a Packer came to an end late in the exhibition season. At practice Lombardi, as usual, was screaming at me to do something right for a change. Finally I blew up. "Listen," I said. "I know I'm not playing good football, but I didn't come all the way from South Carolina to try to deliberately destroy your football team. I don't want to hear you screaming at me. If I don't do the job, cut me."
The next day Lombardi cut me.
Prospects for my lasting 10 years in the league appeared rather cloudy at that point, but when my name went on the waiver list Baltimore became interested. Weeb Ewbank probably figured that a No. 2 draft choice had to be of some use. As it turned out, Weeb was right. He made me his whipping boy. "Hawkins," he would say, "if you can't be faster passing out those road itineraries, I'll get somebody who can." The ballplayers would chuckle and Weeb would consider morale as having been improved a notch.
Besides valuing me as a whipping boy, Weeb no doubt admired my thirst to play. If he asked for a halfback, I was a halfback. If he asked for a fullback, I was a fullback. Wherever injuries thinned our ranks, I stood ready to plunge in. As I said, because of this I played in the first-string backfield during much of my second and third years. After Shula replaced Ewbank in 1963, I settled into my niche as No. 6 receiver. Dick LeBeau, the Detroit cornerback, used to slap his sides and shriek with laughter whenever Shula sent me into the game. "The game must be out of hand!" LeBeau would shout. "Are we behind that much?" Then he would say, "Hawkins, I know what you're going to do, I just know what you're going to do!" He would run alongside me, covering me, cackling all the way, and yelling, "I told you I knew what you were going to do!" May I add that often this was a good deal more than I knew.
For this reason, or a similar one, next season Shula decided I was just the man to be captain of the specialty, or suicide, teams. Not only that, before an exhibition game with Philadelphia he got an even brighter idea: that I should join our offensive and defensive captains in the center of the field for the coin-tossing ceremony.
"Aw, I'll be embarrassed," I told him.
"Don't be a jerk," he said. "Get out there."
I went out, feeling like a jerk.
As you know, the referee introduces the captains to one another. He drew a blank with me.
"Captain Hawkins," I said smartly.