Laura Hawk and the split jersey, 10 years later

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

The most overexposed jersey in Fiesta Bowl history is framed and hanging in a basement, out of sight of ABC’s probing cameras, suffocating behind glass after stealing its share of the spotlight.

If you watched the 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, you remember it. You have no choice. It’s a permanent scar, branded onto the skin of your subconscious — half Notre Dame, half Ohio State.

Nearly a decade ago, Laura Hawk found herself trapped in an uncomfortable predicament — simultaneously the sister of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and the girlfriend of Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. Straddling the border of a bitter rivalry, the split jersey was born.

Laura Hawk wore this hybrid Notre Dame-Ohio State split jersey during the 2006 Fiesta Bowl game (photo courtesy Laura Hawk).

The Idea

It may not be fair to blame Nelly exclusively, but an argument can be made.

Back in 2001, the popular rapper performed in the Super Bowl 35 halftime show, and he did so in a split jersey featuring the game’s two participants — the NFC’s New York Giants and the AFC’s (far superior) Baltimore Ravens.

The company that crafted that jersey, it turns out, had its eyes on Laura Hawk.

“The company that made his jersey reached out to me and said, ‘Would you like us to do one for you?’ and I was all on board with that, because I really was so torn,” Laura Hawk said this week. “My younger sister actually had a t-shirt made, and it said, ‘No half and half here. Go Irish.’”

Just as the jersey didn’t represent full support for either side, Laura’s family was on the fence, too, about the jersey.

“A.J. and I had only been together for a few months, so it was kind of new,” Laura explained. “I had obviously been through Brady’s career with him since he was a little kid. I was really torn initially, but I knew how serious A.J. and I were, obviously. We’ve been married for almost 10 years now.

“At the time, it seemed a little premature to some of my family and friends to not be able to choose a side on that one.”

And so, she didn’t choose a side. The unnatural marriage was Notre Dame blue on one side, Buckeye scarlet and gray on the other — stitched painstakingly down the middle. The Irish half displayed the 1 of Quinn’s No. 10, while the Ohio State half ended with the 7 in A.J. Hawk’s No. 47.

She was a sister, and a girlfriend, divided — for all the world to see.

The Game

Here’s what most people remember about the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, a 34-20 Ohio State victory:

The Buckeyes scored four touchdowns of at least 56 yards, torching an overmatched Irish defense to the tune of 617 total yards, and...

• Nearly every time All-American linebacker A.J. Hawk made a tackle, or really just appeared on screen, a cameo by Laura and the split jersey inevitably followed.

It was a BCS bout with a hint of family drama; a brother-sister-boyfriend sideshow centered under a searing spotlight. For some, it made for great television.

For most others, not so much.

“When we had gotten home, a bunch of people said, ‘Oh my gosh, they showed you like a million times,’” Laura recalled. “They had asked where I was sitting, my section, and I really didn’t have any clue they were showing me, to be honest.

“It was probably pretty immature of me to think that they weren’t, since they asked my section. But it was actually kind of irritating for me at the time, and I think it annoyed a lot of people watching the game, also. So I felt terrible, because I didn’t know they were going to do that.”

And yet, they did it, and did it, and did it, and did it. When A.J. barreled through a hole in the Irish line and dragged Brady to the turf for the first of his two sacks with 12:09 remaining in the third quarter, play-by-play announcer Brent Musberger added some context, too.

“There she is. Half of that jersey Notre Dame colors, half Ohio State,” Musberger mused before Quinn took the snap. “I think she’s pulling for little brother to get something going here, make a contest out of it.

“And here comes A.J., closing in on him, got him! A.J. Hawk has just sacked his future brother-in-law, and the future bride is saying, ‘Don’t hurt baby brother.’”

Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk goes in for the sack on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (10) in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl college football game, Monday, Jan. 2, 2006 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.. (AP Photo/Jason Babyak)

To be clear, it’s unlikely that Laura actually said those words in that moment.

But she was certainly thinking them.

“Stupid me, in the weeks leading up I’d be like, ‘Are you going to be rushing a lot?’ and A.J.’s telling me, ‘No, no, that’s not really in our game plan,’” Laura recalled. “Whatever. Then here comes the game and he sacks him twice, and I think I got more frustrated and angry with him as the game went on.

“It was really hard because I was supposed to meet A.J. after the game, and I was a little resentful, to be honest. I was pretty upset with him. I tried to mask it as best as I could, because his whole family and everybody was there and they were excited. But I knew my brother was hurting and was upset and had to deal with that.”

She also had to deal with a wave of unexpected backlash, branching from the countless cameos in the Sun Devil Stadium seats.

“I didn’t regret it,” she said. “I wish I had known in advance how much attention they were going to give to that. If I had known I was going to be shown the whole time, maybe I would’ve handled things differently. Maybe I would have just asked them not to show me during the game or something of that nature. It was one of those things where, in hindsight, I took a lot of criticism for it afterwards. But you live and learn.

“I think people were kind of relieved when the game was over, because they had overexploited it so much that it was kind of getting to the point where it was beating a dead horse.”

The Aftermath

Ten years later, the jersey’s legacy lives.

“It comes up just randomly with Ohio State and Notre Dame fans all the time,” Laura Hawk said. “To me, I would have thought people would have forgotten. But if there’s an appearance where one of the guys are there or I’m there with one of them, it’s the first thing always brought up.

“That’s amazing to me, because 10 years ago there wasn’t social media and all the stuff there is now. There was Internet and cell phones, but it’s such a different world today.”

The proof is in the people. A decade later, Laura and A.J. are happily married, with two kids — a son and a daughter — and a third on the way. After playing the first nine years of his career in Green Bay, A.J. Hawk is back in his home state, contributing at linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. Laura is an interior designer, and the family lives in the house they built in Columbus.

But while some things change, others keep repeating.

On Jan. 1, nine years and 364 days after they last met, Notre Dame and Ohio State will play in the Fiesta Bowl.

The jersey won’t make the trip.

“My mom kept it. She has it framed down in her basement,” Laura said with a laugh. “Her and my dad have had it for years. They have a bunch of paraphernalia stuff in the basement from me and my sister and Brady from our careers. That’s kind of where it’s stayed.

“It just got the one use. I think that’s all it needed. It was played out by the end of that one day.”

@ndfootball & @ohiostate_football to meet again in the Fiesta bowl....and the 10 year anniversary of this.... @lhawk32

A photo posted by Brady Quinn (@bradyquinn) on Dec 6, 2015 at 12:18pm PST

Laura Hawk cheers during the game between the two teams at the 35th Annual Fiesta Bowl college football game in Tempe, AZ at Sun Devil Stadium Monday, Jan. 2, 2006. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk chat following the Fiesta Bowl (SBT Photo/Jim Rider).
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk goes in for the sack on Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn (10) during the 2006 Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. Notre Dame and Ohio State will meet in this year’s Fiesta Bowl for the first time since that 2006 game, won by the Buckeyes 34-20. (AP Photo/Jason Babyak)