The former Ohio State star had plenty of claims to fame other than that – he was an All-American and Lombardi Award winner at Ohio State and a Super Bowl champion with the Green Bay Packers – but through all of the accomplishments, the hair had been a constant companion.
Grown by Hawk as well as Ohio State teammates Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel in honor of fallen solider and former football player Pat Tillman, the mane flowing from underneath Hawk's helmet had become one of his signature touches.
But two years ago, the star linebacker decided enough was enough.
"I wanted to cut my hair," he told the crowd assembled in his yard for the third annual Hawk's Mane Event fundraiser Saturday evening. "My hair was long and ratty and it looked terrible, and I just got sick of trying to take care of it and trying to make it look decent. I was just going to chop it off and show up the next day at football and whatever, not say anything, and my wife (Laura) being the smart lady that she is, she said, ‘Nah, we have to do something. Let's do something with it.'
"I knew I wanted to donate it and I was just going to send it off to Wigs for Kids and hopefully put it toward making a wig for a kid going through chemo. And so we decided to start our own thing."
Hawk's own thing has now developed into Hawk's Locks for Kids, which provides supporting patient care of women and children throughout the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.
This year, the program will expand to include Hawk's Heroes, a new effort spearheaded by the Hawks that will do what it can to make children facing cancers like leukemia and brain cancer feel like superheroes.
Efforts like that are possible because of such events as the Mane Event, which was attended by almost 300 people and raised more than $60,000 at a live auction of football memorabilia and experiences and brought in more than $100,000 overall. The Buckeye Cruise for Cancer staff helps run the Mane Event, which included a live band, a silent auction, a short program including speakers from the James, a chance to meet Wigs for Kids recipient Lauren Sligh – a local girl who is fighting kidney cancer – and appearances by OSU celebrities including Urban and Shelley Meyer.
"It's taken off. This is crazy," Hawk told the crowd. "Over 250 people here today. We're just really appreciative. We have people sending hair from all over, money from everywhere. We could have never expected this."
Speaking later with BSB, Hawk had the same message.
"I never would have dreamed this would turn into this three years into it," he said. "People every year blow us away with how much they're going to donate. They just want to be part of it. Multiple people come up afterward and ask, ‘How can we be more involved for next year?' That's one of the coolest things, too, is that you never expect it but people keep coming and wanting to help."
When Hawk was speaking, it was clear that the charity has a special place in his heart, perhaps because of the precociousness displayed by his young daughter Lennon during the program. The Hawk's Locks for Kids program was a natural fit, per a suggestion from Laura, after his decision to donate his hair, which is now styled in a something that could be best described as a Mo-Hawk.
"My wife is the one that she basically came up with the idea, and we brainstormed with Chris (Quinn) and Lisa (Cisco with the Buckeye Cruise) and they said, ‘This will be great. We'll start our own thing and team up with Wigs for Kids and now the James,' and it was like a no brainer," Hawk said. "I knew I was going to donate it (originally). I knew I was going to send it away, but my wife wanted to put that bug in my ear to get more involved, don't just send it and forget about it.
"We've always supported multiple charities with different teammates we have and going to their events and doing things, but we never zeroed in on our own one. We were waiting to find one we were passionate about, which was this."
The Mane Event included short speeches by Dr. Michael Caligiuri, the CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and the Solove Research Institute, as well as Dr. Ted Teknos, director of the James' Head and Neck Cancer Research Group.
Teknos – who previously worked at the University of Michigan prior to arriving at Ohio State – outlined for the crowd exactly what makes the James special. Much of the effort at the hospital goes into making the children facing cancer feel comfortable during what is a scary time, including a buddy program that supports kids facing radiation and the construction of a new above-ground radiation center.
"We surveyed parents and we surveyed kids, and we said, ‘What would you like to see in a radiation center?' as we were building this new hospital," Teknos said. "They said radiation centers are dreary places, they are depressing places. They are underground, they are scary.
"So the James competed for and won a $100 million grant to put a radiation center on the fourth floor where the sun can shine in and it's a much more joyous place to go. That $100 million grant allowed us to be the second place in the world that is above ground."
Providing comfort to the young kids like Slish – a third grader who has faced six months of chemotherapy already and described losing her hair as the "scariest and most devastating" part of the experience – that are facing cancer is also important to Hawk and his wife.
Slish was presented with a superhero cape at the Mane Event, something that will be given out to many more kids at the James, as Hawk's Heroes does its best to provide moral support to those in times of need.
"We think it's going to be something special," Hawk said. "We want to get that rolling right away. There's a lot of little things, and it's really a work in progress, but the capes are going to be the first thing we're going to do. We'll try to make them feel like superheroes going in, and I know it's such a hard situation and a lot of pain is involved. That's going to be our first thing, and we're going to keep going from there. We're going to go to a lot of the kids and see what they're missing – ‘What would you like to see? What would make you feel better?' "
Last week was a busy one for charity events involving Ohio State football players, with the 2nd & 7 Foundation hosting two major events and Jim Cordle's annual Bowling with Buckeyes fundraiser taking place in Lancaster.
But the turnout at Hawk's event was also strong, with Carpenter and Schlegel joined by athletes like Kurt Coleman, Craig Krenzel, Evan Turner, Scoonie Penn and Columbus Blue Jackets star Jack Johnson. Many of those athletes support each other and support the Buckeye Cruise, all part of a culture of giving that surrounds the Columbus athletics scene.
"The more you're around it, the more you want to find a way to get involved," Hawk said. "You just realize there are a ton of good causes. You have to find out what you care about the most or what you're passionate about the most and what touches you, and jump in full-go."