T.Y. Hilton rationalized one unforgettable surprise deserved another.
The Indianapolis Colts third-year wide receiver typically thanks fans when he scores with the hand signals “T” and “Y.” But as he sped to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown pass reception in the third quarter of Sunday’s 23-3 win over Jacksonville, Hilton decided to change up the celebration.
Earlier that morning, his wife Shantrell had given birth to their third child and first daughter, Eugenia Emma, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 7 ounces, at a Carmel hospital. She wasn’t due until December 15, so his unexpected early morning deviation from the game-day routine involved holding her for about three hours.
Then he promised her a touchdown and a game ball.
As Hilton rushed to Lucas Oil Stadium, he thought about what would be appropriate when he accomplished his mission. Upon achieving that objective, he put his hand up to the crowd to signify something special. He held the football like it was Eugenia, rocked back and forth and rubbed it.
“She was supposed to be due in December,” Hilton said, “so when she came, you know, she surprised me, so I surprised the people out there today.”
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who received a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call at the team hotel to advise Hilton was headed to the hospital, missed the special TD celebration.
“I didn’t see it, but I heard about it,” Pagano said. “It’s pretty cool. Just glad we didn’t get a flag. If we would have, we would have. For that one, I think it’s pretty special. I think it’s pretty cool.”
The NFL forbids players from using the ball as a prop, so Hilton might get an envelope from the league office this week. Consider that another souvenir from a special day.
“Heck of a day for T.Y., heck of a day,” Pagano said. “Pretty emotional afterwards. It’s God’s greatest gift.”
Hilton said he offered to stay at the hospital, but Shantrell told him, “Boy, you better get out of here.”
The Colts just told him to show up before the 1 p.m. kickoff. He arrived at about 11:45 a.m., missed pregame warm-ups, then went out and caught four passes for 122 yards.
Hilton is typically even keel, not known for expressing himself emotionally in interviews. But when CBS slapped on a headset and he started to talk while standing on the field after the game, his voice cracked, the words needed to describe his emotions were almost impossible to verbalize, and there were tears.
The video clip became an immediate social-media trend.
“All this time, I just want to give it my all and play the game for her,” he said.
As reporters later surrounded his locker, an exhausted Hilton shared details of how he almost slept through the birth. The ringer on his cell phone was shut off. Two calls to his hotel room were met with a quick pick up and put down. A friend had to pound on his door to inform it was time.
“I almost got in trouble because my phone was on silent,” he said. “She was trying to call me.
“I thought someone was playing with me. Then I heard banging on the door, I said I must be getting punked. It was my manager Pete (Riley) and he told me ‘Your wife is in labor.’”
Eugenia Emma, nicknamed “G.G.,” arrived at about 7:30 a.m.
“I was standing on my feet the whole time, just holding her, rocking her to sleep,” he said.
So technically, he had rehearsed his celebration.
“Once I got it, I quieted the crowd down and rocked the baby to sleep,” he said of the score, which gave the Colts a 20-3 lead.
Hilton admitted he had not eaten and was going on three hours sleep. But he was headed back to the hospital as soon as possible.
“He’s got two boys and he’s got a little girl now,” Pagano said. “I said, ‘That’s it, right?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m done. That’s it.’”
The proud 25-year-old father, whose speed and elusiveness have earned him the nickname “Ghost,” later tweeted a picture of his baby girl with the words: “My princess got the game ball today. I promised u a td on your special day. #BABYGHOST #PAPAGHOST.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.