INDIANAPOLIS — Trotting off the field after scoring the first of his two touchdowns on Saturday, Indianapolis receiver T.Y. Hilton handed the football to a plain-clothed gentlemen on the Colts’ sideline.
Reggie Wayne, this one’s for you. While it’s unclear whether the six-time Pro Bowl receiver was recipient of a keepsake or simply holding the ball until game’s end before giving it back, the connection is obvious.
Hilton is the future, a 24-year-old Miami native even the most diehard Colts fans knew little to nothing about when taken by Indy in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Saturday’s frenetic 45-44 AFC wild-card victory against Kansas City at Lucas Oil Stadium remains the talk of professional football and likely will for some time.
Down 28 points early in the third quarter, the Colts fought back to eventually surpass the Chiefs.
Singling out one offensive stalwart in a game featuring 89 points, 58 first downs and 1,049 yards of total offense can prove difficult.
Yet it’s virtually impossible to deny Hilton, a 5-foot-9, 183-pound blur who played collegiately for Florida International, his just due.
Hilton’s 64-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Andrew Luck with 4:21 remaining in the fourth were the tying points, a sequence that sent the majority of the 63,551 spectators into mass hysterics.
“Before we broke the huddle coming off the sideline, coach (Chuck) Pagano told me ‘Go win the game for us.’ We got in the huddle. Me and Andrew started talking,” Hilton said.
“He called the play and said, ‘Man, just run. Just run.’ I knew how they were playing me. I took an outside release, got up on the safety, got his hips turned and Andrew let it go. I used my speed and got past both (defenders).”
Hilton finished with 13 catches for 224 yards. The latter is a new playoff standard for a franchise known for pass-catching greats such as Raymond Berry, Marvin Harrison and, most recently, Wayne.
By this point it can be forgotten that the Luck-Hilton pairing proved formidable in their rookie season of 2012 with Hilton totaling 50 receptions for 861 yards and seven TDs.
He’s been even more electric this time around, in part because Wayne’s season-ending knee injury suffered in the 39-33 victory againsta Denver on Oct. 20 immediately elevated him to Option No. 1.
Hilton is also more in tune with his quarterback and first-year offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
“Pep and Andrew are doing a great job of putting me in great situations to be able to get open and get the ball,” Hilton said.
Having a potential future Hall of Famer offer advice every time he comes off the field doesn’t hurt, either.
Unlike a lot of established NFL players who might opt to rehabilitate an injury in a warmer part of the country, Wayne is at every Colts game.
Cold weather or warm, inside game or the great outdoors, his presence has accelerated Hilton’s growth arc.
“He has helped me a lot. He helps all of us in the receiving group. We all came in and made big plays today. One thing he told us, ‘When your number is called, make sure you’re ready,” Hilton said.
“We all stepped up and made plays in our own special way. One thing he told us before the game even started and at halftime, ‘Hey, leave it out on the field.’ That’s what we all did.”