Sadly, Hilliard sent packing

It was inevitable. But that certainly didn't make it any easier. Ike Hilliard, after spending eight seasons with the Giants, was released after he declined to take a pay cut.

Hilliard, slowed by seven surgeries during his career, appeared to have lost a step last season, and clearly is lacking the burner speed New York coach Tom Coughlin covets.

As a result, one of the toughest, most popular receivers in Giants history is a Giant no longer.

Hilliard joined the Giants as a first-round draft choice in 1997 (seventh overall pick) and in eight seasons he caught 368 passes, the fourth-highest total in the 80-year history of the franchise. Frank Gifford caught 367 passes. Hilliard's 4,630 yards place him seventh in club history and his 27 touchdowns tie him for ninth. He is sixth in Giants history with eight 100-yard games.

"I'm proud of what I've been able to do for eight years," Hilliard said. "I gave everything that I could possibly give. I wish I could have given more to possibly still be there. But in this business people move around so much.

"I don't have any regrets. I hope no one in the organization has any. It's been a great ride. I just want to say good luck to everybody there. It's been fun. The players have been great. I'm going to keep playing hopefully and I'll see you guys again."

Hilliard learned he would be released in an afternoon phone conversation with Coughlin.

"It was disappointing," Hilliard said. "But looking at everything, I'll either resurface somewhere or if no one wants me to play ball for them, my life will go on. But I'm looking forward to staying in shape and playing some more good football. I'm only 28 years old. I hope no one is writing me off. There's a lot of football to play. The Giants are going in a different direction. Everything else will take care of itself."

Both Accorsi and Coughlin lauded Hilliard for his effort, achievements and professionalism as a member of the Giants.

"I think anyone who has been in the National Football League as long as I have has an unofficial list in his mind of his all-time favorite players - Ike Hilliard is near the top of mine," Accorsi said. "A pure professional, clutch player, warrior and extraordinary person. I don't think I have ever admired any player I've been around more than Ike."

"Ike played 16 games for us last year and did everything we asked him to do," Coughlin said. "I told him today that he represented himself and the Giants in a manner that makes us extremely proud. The one situation that occurred last year that sums up Ike is the game at Cincinnati where we lost Mark Jones during warm-ups. I went to Ike and told him he had to be the guy to return punts that day. He never batted an eye, and away he went. He is the kind of guy who always accepted the responsibility and found a way to get it done. His versatility allowed us to come to him on a second's notice, and he could handle it."

Hilliard had career-high totals of 72 receptions for 996 yards in 1999 and eight touchdowns in 2000. His best single-game totals were nine catches at Minnesota on Oct. 26, 2003 and 141 yards (on six receptions) at San Francisco on Nov. 30, 1998.

Hilliard was outstanding in the 2000 postseason, when he caught 16 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those scores occurred in perhaps his finest game, the Giants' 41-0 victory over Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship Game, when Hilliard caught a team postseason record 10 passes for 155 yards. His 46-yard touchdown catch on the game's fourth play ignited the rout.

In addition to his outstanding statistics, Hilliard's Giants career was defined by his toughness. He returned to play after suffering several serious injuries and major surgeries. He underwent posterior spine stabilization surgery as a rookie in 1997, suffered bruised lungs and a bruised sternum in 2000, missed all of training camp and the first two games in 2001 after undergoing foot surgery and needed an operation after he suffered a dislocated shoulder that forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2002 season.

Hilliard played all 16 games three times in his eight seasons. In his Giants career, he started 92 of the 98 games in which he appeared. Last year, he played 16 games with 15 starts. He had a season-high six catches against Chicago on November 7.

"I've been there for eight years," Hilliard said. "A lot of my life has been there. I'll miss a lot of guys in the locker room, I'll miss the coaches, I'll miss everyone upstairs. I made a lot of good friends there. But that ride's over. It's time to go on to something else. I'm disappointed, but I'm not shattered by any means. It's a business. I understand that. They do, too."

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