INDIANAPOLIS – Before there was a question whether T.Y. Hilton would play against the Houston Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, there was a question whether he would ever play again.
And there were conversations with Andrew Luck, his former teammate and long-time friend.
For perhaps the first time in his career, Hilton dealt with the fear that accompanied surgery in late August to address the C-6 disc in his neck that caused the loss of feeling on his left side.
It was, as Hilton described it, a “scary’’ time.
“First two days out of surgery, man, I didn’t think I would be back, to be honest with you,’’ he said Thursday. “It was very painful, man. I hope nobody has to go through that at all.
“It sucks. It sucks not being able to play the game you love after being in training camp so long with my team, just grinding and being so happy.’’
There’s a chance Hilton makes his season debut Sunday against the Texans, the team he’s routinely blistered with receptions, yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games. He feels great and has been assured by the variety of medical experts he’s dealing with there’s no risk of further issues with the disc.
Hilton remains on the injured reserve list but was designated to return to practice Wednesday. He participated in the team’s walkthrough that day, and was involved in Thursday’s practice,
“Just because I’m practicing doesn’t mean I’m playing,’’ Hilton cautioned, adding he’s “got to get my legs back under me, gotta pass some tests.
“I’m just out there giving the team the boost we need.’’
That was very much in doubt after the numbness in Hilton’s left side intensified on the team’s flight home following the Aug. 27 preseason game at Detroit. The disc issue was a minor nuisance when he reported for training camp in late July, disappeared, but was triggered when Hilton landed hard on the final day of camp in Westfield.
Surgery quickly followed.
Then doubts crept in that Hilton’s NFL career might end after nine seasons, four Pro Bowl selections, 608 receptions, 9,360 yards and 50 receiving touchdowns.
Hilton leaned on prayer and endless discussions with “my family, my friends, my kids, my wife . . . everybody, man. They helped me so much when because the first two days when I got home, uh, I almost hung it up. I can’t even lie.
“I didn’t pretty much tell nobody but people close to me. I was close to hanging it up.’’
Included in his close circle of friends was Luck. The two shared more than a few emotional meetings.
“I talked to Andrew. That was probably the wrong thing to do,’’ Hilton said as a smile crossed his face.
Luck stunned the Colts by retiring two weeks before the start of the 2019 season. He had grown weary with the cycle of injury and rehab.
“He came over to my house. We talked,’’ Hilton said. “He just wanted me to be good with it, get back healthy, don’t rush it, take your time.’’
Luck also asked one thing of Hilton.
Before you get back, make sure you talk to me.
“He was a big supporter and just continued to check on me,’’ Hilton said. “I was good. After I got over those two to three days, I started feeling better. I could sleep.’’
Before the surgery, that was virtually impossible because of the pressure the C-6 disc was exerting on the nerve. Hilton has missed 16 games in his 10-year career with a variety of injuries: the neck, groin, calf, chest, shoulder, quadricep. He played through a badly sprained ankle in 2018.
But this was different.
“You only get one neck,’’ he said. “My C-6 was blocking my nerve so I had no feeling on my left side. I’m a side-sleeper so I couldn’t sleep on my side. I was up. I felt like I was sleeping for hours, but it was only 30 minutes. I was pretty much up the whole time.
“It was brutal. I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to have my feeling back. I feel good. I’m good, man.’’
The Colts are 1-4 and teetering on the brink of irrelevancy after their late collapse at Baltimore Monday night.
“I do not see a bad football team,’’ Hilton said. ‘You (saw) it Monday night. We dominated that team for three straight quarters.’’
The offense is coming off a 513-yard outing, including a career-best 402 yards from quarterback Carson Wentz. Hilton doesn’t consider himself the missing piece but believes he can add to an ever-evolving offense.
“Everybody knows when 13’s out there, we’re a different team,’’ he said. “If it was up to me, I want to be out there. But it’s not. My health is first and Frank (Reich) and Chris (Ballard), they know that. They tell me to take my time and I’m in the training room, talking to the doctors, talking to several doctors.
“If all doctors say I’m good, then I’m good. If not, then just gotta wait.’’
Hilton’s presence has provided an emotional lift.
“Of course,’’ linebacker Darius Leonard said. “Everybody’s happy to see T.Y. He’s a great leader. He brings nothing but good energy around. Every time you see him he’s got a smile on his face.
“So it’s always good to have him back, especially Texans week. He always plays great against Houston. Hopefully he can go for about 200, 250 like he always does.’’
Leonard was one of the individuals to counsel Hilton regarding the neck injury.
“I told him to be smart,’’ he said. “He had a neck issue, so that’s nothing to play with. I told him when it first happened, ‘You’ve got kids. Football was here before you. Football is going to be here after you, so make sure you just be smart.’
“I think when he’s ready, he’s going to pop out. He’s the Ghost. You never know when he’s going to show up or not.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.