A.J. & Laura Hawk left deep roots in Green Bay for a new NFL home in Cincinnati
It was an Easter Sunday in 2015 that remains etched in my memory. That day marked my departure from Green Bay, a town deeply ingrained in my heart, where memories and emotions intertwined.
As the plane touched down, a sense of melancholy washed over me, and my thoughts raced through the uncertain terrain that lay ahead.
This was the genesis of a new chapter in our journey, one that brimmed with possibilities yet shrouded in mystery. Amidst the vast expanse of the unknown, our unwavering faith provided a compass to navigate the uncharted waters that awaited us.
For a span of nine years, Green Bay had been our sanctuary, aptly dubbed Title Town. It witnessed our journey from newlyweds to parents.
The tapestry of our life was interwoven with the memories we forged there. It was in this city that A.J. and I embarked on the journey of homeownership, investing our hopes and dreams in our first house. A.J.’s entrance into the NFL, marked by his rookie training camp, was a pivotal juncture that Green Bay bore witness to.
As I delved into the realm of interior design, the community became the canvas upon which I painted my professional aspirations.
The resonance of Green Bay reached a crescendo with the birth of our first child at the esteemed Green Bay Aurora Hospital in 2010.
That momentous year coincided with A.J. and his teammates triumphantly securing Super Bowl XLV. For A.J., this was a dream meticulously nurtured since his formative years, a realization of a dream woven with unwavering dedication.
I vividly recall him cradling our seven-week-old daughter on the field, a surreal tableau unfolding as confetti cascaded from above. In the aftermath of victory, we extended heartfelt congratulations to our comrades turned family, united by the shared pursuit of this remarkable achievement.
As I embarked on that last journey back to Green Bay, a wave of nostalgia mingled with anticipation. The town had served as the backdrop for numerous defining moments that shaped our lives.
The familiarity of its streets was interwoven with the threads of our experiences, infusing each corner with a profound sense of significance. As our narrative pivoted to an unwritten chapter, we carried the legacy of Green Bay in our hearts, grateful for the memories that enriched our journey.
Green Bay was no ordinary place for A.J. and I.
It was our beginning together and the storybook of our life together thus far. So it was a tough pill to swallow when we realized our time in Green Bay had run its course, and we had no choice but to leave.
Change is never easy, but isn’t that the purpose? God allows discomfort in our lives because it provides growth and enables us to become the people He intends us to be. Change is something at which A.J. is extremely proficient.
He always has accepted and embraced his circumstances. For me, this particular change left me with a heavy heart, an experience that families of NFL players unfortunately deal with year after year in the league.
While A.J.’s perception about the move was more rational, mine was more emotional. The Packer women were thick as thieves. If anyone ever needed anything, we ran to each other’s beck and call.
If someone had a sick day, there was always another wife willing to pick up her kids, take them to the park, or get them to school.
We all served the community together in various ways. We did everything together, from workouts to Bible studies to being each other’s emergency contacts. The sisterhood that was our group is what I will miss the most.
Those were the things that ran through my mind when I realized A.J.’s 10th season wouldn’t be spent among this tight-knit group.
When A.J. received the call from Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and was given an opportunity to play for the team he grew up cheering for, it reignited a new flame of hope and excitement for all of us! After all, it’s truly been a blessing getting to stay with one team as long as we did.
We head into this venture, understanding that this is a business and everyone’s path is different. Wives know the challenges to help their spouses through. We have to be strong when they need it, to be encouraging when they question themselves, and be the rock-solid base that makes transition and change look like a cakewalk.
This particular move couldn’t have been easier. We built our permanent home in Columbus, which is only an hour and 45 minutes from where A.J. would play, so that made for an easy commute to our new life.
Fate seemed to play its hand when A.J. and Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, long-standing companions who shared their formative years and the journey through Ohio State’s gridiron, found themselves aligned in the realm of professional football.
This serendipitous twist of fate materialized into a unique opportunity for them to collaborate on the same team.
As A.J. crossed the threshold of the Bengals’ training facility last April for OTAs, a familiar face awaited him – that of Mike Nugent. Their camaraderie, nurtured over the years, lent an air of comfort to his first steps into the new environment.
I vividly recall the phone call I received from A.J. en route to the stadium on that inaugural day. His tone mirrored the blend of anticipation and trepidation akin to a child stepping onto the school bus for the very first time.
As with any new venture, the landscape was awash with uncertainties. Questions about parking logistics, navigating the facility’s layout, and myriad other intricacies loomed large.
In contrast to the structured support often found in earlier experiences, the onus lay on him to chart his course. With characteristic resolve, A.J. embraced this challenge wholeheartedly, diving into the experience without reservation.
What transpired was an immersion into the Bengals organization, a realm marked by warm and open arms at every juncture.
A noteworthy facet of this transition has been the gracious hospitality extended by the Bengals organization.
Each interaction and gesture underscored their eagerness to foster a sense of belonging. For me, the transition has been further eased by the kinship shared with Emily, Mike Nugent’s wife, who herself is a childhood friend.
Her welcoming embrace and introductions have transformed this new chapter into an elementary journey. The connections have flowed effortlessly, ushering me into their fold and encompassing me in their collective activities.
The camaraderie among the girls within this close-knit community is equally striking. Their bonds radiate even in the early stages, a harbinger of the promising relationships poised to flourish.
The dawn of this fresh start is accompanied by a beacon of potential, a bright light that illuminates not only the opportunities awaiting but also the meaningful connections that are destined to blossom.
It’s ironic we moved from Green Bay on a holiday because holidays are probably what I’ll miss most about northeast Wisconsin.
As we flew out that morning following Easter Sunday, I snapped a picture out my window as we flew over the homes of all the people we loved so much.
The same people who graced our doorstep every Halloween to pass out candy and take our kids from house to house; the same “family” with whom we broke bread every Thanksgiving; the friendly faces we woke up to Christmas morning after staying up playing games on Christmas Eve. All the things any other family would do.
That team was our family for the better part of a decade. We were there for each other when our real families couldn’t be. A.J. and I grew up alongside half of them and watched the other half grow up from young, single rookies into men with wives and kids.
It’s been an incredible ride in Green Bay, but we look forward to the new memories that will be made in A.J.’s final years of football with his new colleagues. After that, who knows what God has in store for us?
The one thing I do know after all of this is that life is humbling and challenging but worth it for the enlightenment it provides. As long as you let your identity be who you are to your family and friends and not who you are because of your occupation, you will remain unshaken.
The stress, strain, and uncertainty of life in the NFL are always aided by the relationships you gain there. These relationships and how you serve the world are all that truly matter in this life, especially for athletes because the majority of their lives will be spent doing something other than their sport. But these relationships are so often a forgotten part of the NFL transactions so commonplace in football.
One day when we are old, we’ll look back on these moments. Very few details about the game of football will be recalled. Instead, we’ll remember the people with whom we crossed paths and the way they changed our hearts forever. The bonds you build and the positive ways you impact other people’s lives are the only meaningful accomplishments in the end.