A farewell to ‘The Hawk”…Alex Hawkins… a colorful former Gamecock who’s wit and play were legendary.
Georgia’s rivalry with South Carolina began in 1894 with Georgia winning 40-0 at Columbia where the Bulldogs have enjoyed overall success through the years. The record in the capital city of the Palmetto State stands at 20-10-2. In the last ten years, however, each team has won five games each.
Since the Gamecocks joined the Southeastern Conference, the rivalry has become more intense. Traditionally, the two schools have recruited effectively in the other’s backyard, especially Georgia which experienced favorable results during the Vince Dooley era. South Carolina in many cases preferred to play in the Southeastern Conference.
At the time the minimum SAT score was 760 in the ACC and 750 for SEC schools which prompted the colorful coach at Clemson, Frank Howard, to castigate the SEC by calling it the “knucklehead” league, like 10 points was such a big deal with respect to admission requirements. Truth was that high school stars in those years were attracted to the reputation of the SEC.
With former Bulldog teammates Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp now opposing coaches, the rivalry is likely to intensify. It will be like two brothers going at it in all competitions from the basement to nearby sandlots.
Steve Spurrier added heat to the intensity in that he had the greatest of antipathy for Georgia, owing to the fact that as a player at Florida, he was unable to defeat Georgia for the SEC title—even the year he won the Heisman trophy.
No question about it, Spurrier not only was an exceptional coach, he was extra special on game day. He was a cagey poker player with sideline decisions. However, when things soured on him in Columbia, he quit on his team in his final year. When he saw what lay ahead in 2015, he abruptly resigned after six games with the Gamecocks ultimately winning three games.
When I think of opponent heroes in this rivalry, I often think of Dan Reeves and Alex Hawkins, but for different reasons. Dan Reeves, of Americus, owing to injury, didn’t get many scholarship offers in 1961. After the summer high school all-star game, when he played lights out, everybody flocked to his door. He had given Weems Baskin, former Georgia track coach, who had taken the same job in Columbia and doubled as a football recruiter, his word that he would enroll at South Carolina before he was hurt. He kept his word.
There probably has never been a more colorful player to play in the series than Alex Hawkins who passed away in early September. I learned about Hawkins’ death belatedly and was unable to reach out to his wife, Charlie, which I regret. This is my farewell to the “Hawk.”
I got to know Hawkins when he was playing with the Baltimore Colts and lived in Atlanta in the off-season. He used to hang out at his teammate’s place in Peachtree Battle Shopping Center—Jimmy Orr’s End Zone. Affable and clever, Hawkins was a one-liner advocate who wrote two books that did not make any best seller lists, but he produced classic storytelling prose. There was no co-author. Dan Jenkins, the esteemed Hall of Fame sportswriter, gave Hawk the highest of marks for his books. “That’s my Story and I’m Stickin’ to It,” was followed by “Then Came Brain Damage,” the title turning into a real-life circumstance—unfortunately.
On behalf of the Touchdown Club of Athens, five or so years ago, I invited Raymond Berry, the Hall of Fame receiver for the Colts, to speak in Athens. I invited Alex and Jimmy Orr to join their old teammate for the evening. They brought the wives and spent the night at our house. There was Harkins and Orr drinking their double scotches and water and Raymond, perhaps the cleanest living ex-athlete ever, with a glass of milk. It was a reminder that great teams are made up of different types of personalities who bond in friendship selflessly to build team relationships, which win championships.
Later on, I asked Hawkins to speak to the Athens Touchdown Club. He arrived early while there was a book signing for a cookbook my wife, Myrna, and I wrote, “Let the Big Dawg Eat.” Hawkins sat beside me throughout the session, asking questions about the book. It wasn’t long before the news came that he had produced a similar book with tailgating recipes which he called, “Cooking with Cocky.” It became a very successful and popular book for Carolina alumni and fans.
For a spell, at least a couple of times, when Georgia played in Columbia, I would drive to the game, stopping in to see Alex and Charlie at their home by the banks of the Edisto River near Denmark, S. C. I always left laughing and marveling at the fact that after years in the bright lights of big cities like Baltimore and Atlanta and throughout the National Football League, that he was content to enjoy life by a lazy river with the cicada’s enriching the evening atmosphere. He and Charlie would cook out, enjoy their favorite beverage and lively conversation.
Hawk was always smiling and laughing. He never took himself seriously and was disdainful of coaches who did—including Vince Lombardi, for whom Hawk first played in the NFL. But, don’t think for a minute that the free-spirited Hawk was unserious about football. He loved the game and gave it his undying respect.