Former FIU defensive back Peter Riley was waiting his turn in a Miami Gardens barbershop last Saturday morning when the chatter amongst the other customers and barbers turned to the Indianapolis Colts/Kansas City Chiefs wild card playoff game and more specifically the local receiver, a guy by the name of T.Y. Hilton.
Hilton — FIU’s all-time leading receiver and the Colts No. 1 receiver after Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury earlier this season – would be playing in his second career NFL playoff game later that afternoon.
Although the Colts’ playoff game was a popular topic in the barbershop, Riley had more important thoughts running through his mind.
It was 364 days ago (Jan. 4, 2013) last Saturday that Riley’s brother and best friend, former FIU receiver Chandler Williams passed away from cardiac arrest during a flag football game. The following day, Jan. 5, 2013, the Colts played the Baltimore Ravens in a wild card playoff game but before that game Hilton reached out to Riley to offer his condolences and let Riley know that he was thinking about Williams.
Last Saturday morning, one day before the one-year anniversary of Williams’s passing, Riley reached out to Hilton.
“T.Y. and I will text each other on the morning before his games,” Riley said. “I normally just wish him good luck and he’ll say thanks and ask how my family is doing. But I asked him for something last Saturday. I said, “I need a favor. Sunday is the one-year anniversary of Chandler’s passing. Can you go out and have a great game for him?”
Hilton responded to Riley, “I know. I will play this game for Chandler. Consider it done.” Then in all capital letters, Hilton wrote: “I PROMISE I WILL HAVE A GREAT GAME FOR CHANDLER. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you and Chandler.”
By now you probably heard about the record-setting game Hilton produced in the Colts’ thrilling 45-44 come-from-behind-win against the Chiefs. Not only did Hilton catch the game-winning 64-yard touchdown pass from Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, but he set records in the process. Hilton caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The receptions and receiving yards broke Colts’ playoff records. Hilton’s 224 yards is now the third highest in NFL postseason history. Only Buffalo’s Eric Moulds (240 yards) and Minnesota’s Anthony Carter (227 yards) have had more receiving yards in an NFL playoff game.
“It was surreal watching T.Y. have the game he had,” Riley said. “I was so proud of him and I’m sure Chandler was too, watching from above. That kid [Hilton] has got a thing for coming through on promises.”
Hilton certainly does.
Before signing with FIU out of Miami Springs High, Hilton promised former FIU coach Mario Cristobal that he would score a touchdown the first time he touched the ball in college. Hilton did, returning a punt for a touchdown against Kansas in 2008. After the 2009 season, Hilton vowed that FIU would win the Sun Belt Conference in 2010 – check. At the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Hilton told teammate and linebacker Toronto Smith that he would return the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown – check. Hilton’s last FIU promise was to defeat Florida Atlantic and return the Don Shula Bowl Trophy to FIU – check, thanks in part to a 97-yard punt return touchdown by No. 4.
But this time, this particular promise was a little more personal because Hilton and Williams had become close in the time they knew each other.
“It felt great to be able to go out and do something for Peety [Riley] and Chandler,” Hilton said on Sunday. “I was close with Chandler. He was an inspiration to me when I played at FIU. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him and Peety.”
Hilton met Williams before his freshman season at FIU in 2008. At the time Williams held several FIU receiving records that Hilton would eventually break. Still in the off-seasons, Williams ran routes with Hilton and other FIU receivers. It was a common sight in the off-season to see Williams mentoring FIU receivers. Later in the summer the receivers would then challenge FIU defensive backs, including Riley, before the Panthers opened camp each August.
With last Sunday, Jan. 5, being the one-year anniversary of Williams’s passing, Riley relaxed at home Saturday the day before Williams would be remembered. On Sunday, Williams’s family, including Riley, and former FIU football players Julius Eppinger and Kevin Timothee gathered at a family friend’s home to remember Williams and then visited the cemetery.
Riley watched Saturday’s game at home and about one hour after the Colts’ dramatic win the phone rang. It was Hilton on the other line. Riley usually gets calls from Hilton after games but not until the day after the game, so Riley was taken a little aback by this call.
“First thing T.Y. says to me when I answered the phone is ‘Did I come through for you or what?,’” Riley recalled. “I said ‘Yes!’ and we both laughed it off. I never expected T.Y. to have the game he had. The following day was going to be a little overwhelming with our family having these emotions and I told him I will remember this day and this game forever. Thank you.”
- Pete Pelegrin, FIUSports.com