CINCINNATI — Andrew Hawkins' first NFL keepsake ball rests on the top shelf of his wooden locker in the Cincinnati locker room, a temporary resting place before it winds up in someone else's hands.
The second-year receiver owes one to his older brother.
Artrell Hawkins was a cornerback for the Bengals from 1998-03. One of his best moments came his rookie season, when his interception in Pittsburgh sealed a 25-24 win — one of only three by the Bengals that season.
Artrell received a game ball for that one. The date and the reminder of his interception were painted on it.
"Coach (Bruce) Coslet gave out game balls," Artrell said in an interview. "It had the score on it and said 'Artrell Hawkins had this many tackles, this many breakups, the game-sealing interception.' That was my crown jewel. Probably still is to this day."
He gave it to his mother at the family home in Pennsylvania. The ball stayed in pristine condition until one day when his younger brother wanted to play with his other brothers in their backyard and needed a ball.
Yep, he grabbed the game ball.
"I didn't know any better," Andrew said. "I was 11. I needed a football and it was the only one in the house."
It became their ball for the next few years. They'd throw, catch and kick it, with each rough landing scraping a little more of the painted detail off. Soon, it was scuffed and scarred and virtually unreadable.
Older brother didn't know that his keepsake had been commandeered until he visited his parents' home.
"I remember walking through my mom's living room and there sits a half-deflated football with paint chips," Artrell said. "You can barely distinguish what it said on the ball!"
For Andrew, it was one of those "uh-oh" moments.
"He wasn't happy about it," Andrew said. "We'd played with it for a couple of years. The paint's all worn off. You can't even see what's on it. But he understands."
After the initial shock, he did. Artrell figured the ball became one of his brother's aids in building his career, which wasn't nearly as smooth. Artrell went to the University of Cincinnati and was the Bengals' second-round pick, the 43rd overall. Andrew, a 5-foot-7 receiver, went to Toledo and went undrafted. Artrell got the Bengals to take a look at him — they weren't interested at first.
Andrew played two years for Montreal in the Canadian Football League, then signed with St. Louis in 2011. The Cardinals waived him and the Bengals claimed him. He played in 13 games and had 23 catches for 263 yards without a touchdown.
Cincinnati was impressed enough to give him a chance at winning the slot receiver job. He has become dangerous when he gets the ball. Through three games, Hawkins has 208 yards — 27th in the league — on 12 catches, with a pair of long catch-and-run touchdowns.
In the second game of the season, Andy Dalton scrambled away from Cleveland's rush and threw a short pass to Hawkins, who turned it into a clinching 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of a 34-27 win over the Browns. He got the ball for his first NFL score.
Last week, he caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Dalton, also in the fourth quarter, for a 38-31 win. Afterward, analyst Deion Sanders called him one of the best slot receivers in the league.
"I don't want to jump the gun or anything," Hawkins said. "It's just cool that Deion Sanders knows who I am. That's enough for me."
Now, about that game ball ...
Artrell said his younger brother can hold onto his keepsake from his first NFL touchdown. Maybe spend a little money to get the one from that Pittsburgh game restored to its original condition.
"The ball is still in Pennsylvania, so maybe he can just go and pay for the refurbishing," he said.
"Maybe we can give them both to mom," he said.
Notes: CB Adam "Pacman" Jones said he was fined $15,000 for his horse-collar tackle against the Redskins. ... CB Nate Clements (calf) and CB Leon Hall (calf/hamstring) missed a second day of practice. C Jeff Faine (hamstring) also sat out after being limited on Wednesday.