T.J. Houshmandzadeh can't recall any kid at practice watching his every move. But he knows all about Andrew Hawkins from Andrew's brother Artrell and now he's watching the kid's every move.
"I couldn't worry about who was watching. I was worried about getting through the practice so I would still be there for the next one," Houshmandzadeh said Tuesday. "I feel good for him because he's been at the bottom and I've been there. You're talking about a guy that couldn't beat out Jessie Holley on Michael Irvin's reality show and had to play in Canada. I know the story. I'm happy for him."
Hawkins told the story this week after he became the first Bengal since Billy Brooks 35 years ago, according to Elias, to make his first two NFL touchdowns 50-plus-yard catches. When brother Artrell Hawkins, 10 years older than Andrew, played for the Bengals with Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, Andrew recalled how he'd watch them during the spring practices and along with Santana Moss they became his favorite receivers.
"Those are two guys I looked up to. I'd have my brother bring 1-on-1 tapes of their routes. It was probably those two and Santana Moss," Andrew Hawkins said. "Housh had a great feel for the game. Chad was so great in and out of breaks. Such a specimen; I can remember coming to practice and just watching and just being amazed. They were great receivers. Why wouldn't you, as a young kid with that access I had, take some pages out of their book?"
And if you look at the numbers, so far Hawkins is right there with his idols this early in their careers:
FIRST 16 GAMES OF CAREER: Catches-yards-yards-per catch TDs
Andrew Hawkins 35-461-13.2-2
Chad Johnson 33-407 -12.3-2
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 33-369-11.2-0
Hawkins got a thrill before Sunday's game in Washington and his ensuing 59-yard touchdown catch and burst down the middle when Moss approached him.
"He came up to me before the game and he told me I was a pretty good player," Hawkins said. "That was a pretty cool moment."
Here's another pretty cool moment. Houshmandzadeh thinks Hawkins can become an elite NFL slot receiver.
"No matter how good he gets, A.J. Green is always going to be the focus," Houshmandzadeh said. "That dude is good. I remember Marvin (Lewis) telling me, 'T.J., he's the best player I've ever coached,' and he's good, so that means (Hawkins) is going to get his chances. Plus, there's (tight end) Jermaine (Gresham). The Bengals have a good team."
But Houshmandzadeh, who became the third all-time leading Bengals receiver with 507 catches in eight seasons working the nooks and crannies of the slot like a cat burglar, thinks the 5-7, 180-pound Hawkins has the physical skills to do it.
"The thing that I think I did that was overlooked was how I could get separation," said the 6-1, 197-pound Houshmandzadeh. "And he can get that because he's low to the ground and he's quick. But he's not only quick, he's fast. Some guys like Wes Welker are quick, but they can't run like he can.
"As long as he stays healthy and being a smaller guy I hope that he can. It's not like New England's offense where you step out of bounds or you get down quickly. He looks like the kind of guy that wants to get as much as he can after he catches it."
Houshmandzadeh, who went against cornerback Artrell Hawkins in practice during his first three seasons in the league, talks occasionally with his old teammate and he's filled him in on Andrew. They are two of the more savvy players that plied their trade under Lewis.
"He learned from me because I burned his brother all the time," Houshmandzadeh joked before turning serious. "Artrell and I went at each other really hard in practice. He's smart. I'm sure it's helped (Andrew) that he had an older brother in the league. Especially a cornerback. He can tell him, 'Try this,' or 'look for that.' Just stuff like what to expect at training camp."
If it sounds like Houshmandzadeh still pulls for the Bengals, he does. If it sounds like he still wants to play, he does.
"The reason I have the life I have is because of the Bengals," said Houshmandzadeh, who signed a four-year deal with Seattle in 2009 that gave him $15.5 million guaranteed even though he got cut after one season.
"I think if I had been with any other team when I was having all those hamstring problems (when he missed virtually all of his third season), they would have cut me. When I left it didn't work out for me and it didn't work out for them. When Leon Hall signed a long-term deal there (last year) he got criticized because he could have got more on the open market. He could have, but he did the right thing. It's best to stay with the team that you came up with. They know you and your strengths and weaknesses."
Whenever he decides, Houshmandzadeh will have a bright future in broadcasting and the betting money is on the NFL Network because the studios are near his southern California home. He hasn't been with a team since spending the second half of last season in Oakland, but he's keeping in shape. He won't name one team that has shown interest, but he would like to make it known he's turning 34 Wednesday and not 35 as every record of his date of birth shows.
"Nope,' he said. "I turn 34 tomorrow."
But 34 or 35, he still has a kid that watched his every move among the league leaders.
"It's nice to know," Houshmandzadeh said. "Players come and go but the league is always going to be here, so it's nice to know you had guys watching you because I came up watching guys, too."
List of Bengals whose first two NFL TD catches were 50-plus yards (Courtesy of Elias Sports)
» Warren McVea, 54 on Sept. 15, 1968 and 55 on Nov. 17, 1968
» Isaac Curtis, 60 on Oct. 7, 1973 and 50 on Nov. 4, 1973
» Billy Brooks, 94 on Nov. 13, 1977 and 58 on Nov. 27, 1977
» Andrew Hawkins, 50 on Sept. 16, 2012 and 59 on Sept. 23, 2012