True story: I didn’t realize wide receivers could wear numbers in the teens before I noticed Ike Hilliard.
I realize how silly this is in retrospect; it’s not like Chris Doering or Reidel Anthony or Jacquez Green was wearing a number in the 80s. But I associated Ike with his No. 19 at Florida, one he eventually got to wear again in the pros, and it’s that number that is probably my second-best memory of Hilliard as a Gator.
You know what the first one is. It’s yours, too. As grainy as this video is, I bet your mind’s eye sees it perfectly clearly.
And if Ike Hilliard had done nothing in his Florida career other than just the Stop and Pop, he’d still be a legend. Isn’t David Tyree a legend?
But ol’ Ike has done so much more.
He had a 12-year NFL career, you know. Never cracked 1,000 yards, but still somehow retired with almost 6,400 — still among the top 200 in NFL history, still ahead of stars of today like Amari Cooper and Stefon Diggs. He didn’t score a touchdown in his first season, but he had four in his last.
And since his playing days have ended, he’s quietly become one of football’s best wide receivers coaches. His list of pupils? It’s tremendous: Brandon Marshall, Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Terry McLaurin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool. Now in Pittsburgh, he’s likely to continue to get talented players to work with, given the Steelers’ stellar run of success in drafting pass-catchers.
Hilliard got his Florida degree, too, and he’s in the UF Hall of Fame. He played in a Super Bowl with the Giants, and my guess is he’ll eventually get to one on the sidelines if he remains in his coaching career for long enough.
What he did at Florida was the stuff of legends. What he’s done since is the stuff of dreams. And while he’s so far down from the mountaintop of popularly discussed Florida greats that you might not see him from the summit, I don’t think Ike Hilliard has too many regrets about his professional life.
Would that we could all, at least in that way, be like Ike.