Apr. 1—TY Hilton heard every song, saw every meme and read every tweet.
Make no mistake, the veteran wide receiver is back for his 10th season with the Indianapolis Colts in no small part because of the fanbase. As the 31-year-old navigated NFL free agency for the first time, fans poured their emotions out on social media — making #BringTYHome trend for close to 48 hours.
It was a timely tribute to one of the franchise's most beloved stars.
"I was very surprised," Hilton said during a video conference call after officially signing a one-year contract reportedly worth up to $10 million on Thursday. "I know Indy loves me, but I didn't know they loved me that much. They was singing the songs, tweeting bring TY home. It was special, and I loved every minute, and it really touched me from the heart. So I love the fans."
Now, it's time to get down to business.
Hilton was widely praised last season for sacrificing some of his own touches for the betterment of the team. That's just one aspect of the leadership he's brought to the locker room in recent years, but there were other factors at work.
In 2019, Jacoby Brissett often was unwilling to take the risk on deep throws, and Philip Rivers' declining arm strength limited deep-play opportunities last season. That played a role in Hilton averaging just a little more than 50 receiving yards per game over the past two years — the two lowest totals of his career.
Carson Wentz could help change that in 2021, if Hilton's evaluation is correct. The veteran receiver sees similarities with the quarterback he was associated with for the majority of his career.
"He has some Andrew Luck traits, man," Hilton said. "He can get out of the pocket, make the incredible throws. He's a special talent, man."
Wentz might not have composed any songs or created any memes, but he shared the fans' enthusiasm for Hilton's return. From the day the trade that sent the quarterback from the Philadelphia Eagles to Indianapolis was agreed to, Wentz was a persistent presence in Hilton's life.
"We just constantly texted, and he was just always there throughout the free agency," Hilton said. "'I hope we can get you here, man. I want you to stay here. I want to be able to throw passes to you.' And just constantly us wanting to get together and just play. I look forward to it, and it should be fun."
The potential of that pairing played a factor in Colts owner Jim Irsay's enthusiasm to bring the receiver back for another season. As talks dragged on and Hilton received a multiyear offer from the Baltimore Ravens, Irsay intervened.
He sent a text to the man the franchise traded up to select in the third round of the 2012 draft and reminded Hilton how much he's appreciated in Indianapolis. Irsay asked what it would take to get a deal done, Hilton gave him a number and the free agent's return was guaranteed.
It was a move that again required sacrifice on Hilton's part. He turned down more money and greater security from the Ravens.
But he never really wanted to leave the only NFL home he's ever known.
"I feel like it worked both ways," Hilton said. "I wanted to stay here. I didn't want to go nowhere else, and it's just something that was on my mind. I wanted to stay here no matter what the cost was, and I gave up a lot of money to stay here, and that's what I wanted to do."
Hilton isn't sure how much longer he'll continue to play. He said last spring his next contract would be his final contract, but he wasn't necessarily thinking about a one-year deal at the time.
Hilton only missed one game last season, and he said he feels great physically.
"My retirement won't depend on me," he said. "It'll depend on if I'm ready to start watching my kids play."
In the meantime, there's history to be made. Hilton needs 640 receiving yards to reach 10,000 for his career.
He would join Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and two-time Hall of Fame finalist Reggie Wayne as the only players in franchise history to reach that mark. No team in NFL history has ever had three players with 10,000 receiving yards while wearing its uniform.
Wayne was another resource for Hilton, making himself available for calls and texts throughout the free agent process. Also a beloved figure in Indianapolis, Wayne played his entire 14-year career with the Colts.
But he spent his final training camp with the New England Patriots in 2015.
That's just another example of how rare it is for a player to remain with a single franchise for life. And Hilton is well aware of that fact.
"It's very special," Hilton said. "Not many guys can say they did that. For me to be able to get that chance, it means a lot. I love it here, so the moment I had a chance to sign back here — it was only right."