A.J. Hawk joined his hometown team Tuesday on a two-year deal.
A.J. Hawk won a Super Bowl and made the postseason in seven of his nine seasons in Green Bay, where he played in 13 playoff games. But he always watched the Bengals out of the corner of his eye.
"You never completely take your eye off the team you grew up watching," a happy Hawk said Tuesday, a Bengal after all these years. "I know of the talent they have here. They have studs everywhere you look. That was a huge factor. I wanted to go to a place and win and this locker room definitely has that.
"I can imagine what the city and the whole state would be like if we won the Super Bowl," Hawk said. "That's what I want to do. Work on getting a ring. Everyone here would go crazy. I envision that in the future hopefully."
Hawk, who started 136 games at linebacker for the Packers, not only brings his vast experience to the Bengals' banged-up linebacker corps, but his leadership and winning ways fit nicely into a locker room blessed with both after four straight post-season runs.
The logical marriage was confirmed by Mike McCartney, Hawk's agent, barely 90 minutes into free agency Tuesday when he said the sides had a two-year deal in principle. Hawk, 31, who grew up 45 minutes from Paul Brown Stadium in Centerville, Ohio, becomes the 28th Ohio State player to play for the Bengals, the most by far of any school. The Bengals won't announce the deal until the contract is signed.
Hawk actually wore the Bengals uniform before the Packers uniform. He can't remember if it was three or four times, but he participated in the Ohio state championship Punt, Pass, and Kick competition as a pre-teen at Riverfront Stadium wearing Tim Krumrie's No. 69, and actually won one of them, earning a trip to the AFC championship game.
So they've got a guy now who has been to an AFC title game, long before the Packers made him the fifth pick in the 2006 draft.
"The guy's a winner, he's smart, he knows football and it's important to him," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "When he came in for his visit I could tell he was the kind of guy that was going to fit right in with our guys."
The Bengals think the durable Hawk can play all three backer spots and with the status of Pro Bowl WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict up in the air with microfracture knee surgery and SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur learning the ropes in his second season as a starter, Hawk provides solid insurance after missing just two games in Green Bay. They also figure to take a linebacker at some point in the April 30-May 2 draft as they try to ease the workload of a backup like Vincent Rey after he played about 1,000 snaps this past season.
"I'm not really thinking about my role at this point," Hawk said. "I want to do as much as I can. I'm sure the guys there are going to be sick of me asking questions. I'm anxious to get in there and compete."
And it looks like he'll be able to do that right away. A month ago he had surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle, an injury that hobbled him this past season, but he says he feels better now than he did before the surgery and expects to be cleared for off-season workouts.
The transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3, he says, should be no problem.
"It's not like I'm a defensive end trying to stand up as a linebacker. It's not that major of a switch," Hawk said. "I played in a 4-3 my first three years in the league and all through college."
Whether it's a 4-3 or a 3-4, home is home. His wife is from Columbus and his first thought when the Packers cut him a few weeks ago was Cincinnati. He saw home even when he watched the Bengals as a Packer.
"I enjoy watching them, especially the defense. I love watching those guys on film," Hawk said. "I love how the defense plays. The speed, how physical they are and I think that comes across watching on TV, let alone the game film I've been watching in our meeting room. I feel like it's a representation of Cincinnati and of Ohio. The teams there, people take pride in being tough and making plays and that's what those guys do."
But his favorite Bengals are a little older. He goes all the way back to quarterback Boomer Esiason and running back Ickey Woods. He loves Woods' Geico commercial that aired this past season.
"I'm one of the older guys in the league now. There are guys playing now that heard the name, but never saw it," Hawk said. "I was telling guys, 'I remember when he did it when he was playing. That goes back to my childhood.' I remember when they made him do it behind the bench because they thought he was taunting. It was a whole debacle."
But the return home has been no such thing and he gets it.
"To play for nine years for such a historic team in Green Bay, where it's such a great place, class from top to bottom, and to come to this, the same thing, and to do it with my boyhood team,' Hawk said, " believe me, I know how lucky I am."