FRISCO, Texas -- T.Y. Hilton wasn’t ready to give up football.
He wanted to spend the summer and fall watching his sons play football, but he kept working out, kept catching passes from his 61-year-old father, Tyrone, hoping a call would come so he could make a run at a Super Bowl.
The Dallas Cowboys’ flirtations with Odell Beckham Jr. went on for weeks and were as public as they could be with owner and general manager Jerry Jones hoping he would add the veteran free agent, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The flirtations with Hilton lasted a couple of days. His workout was so impressive, the Cowboys cut it short.
Hilton’s impact through two games has been bigger than Beckham's could have been in the regular season, since he was not ready to play, and it looks to grow as the playoffs commence.
“Obviously I think it speaks volumes about him personally, but also for him professionally, to come in, to be in game shape, he’s handled everything that we’ve thrown at him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a very accomplished receiver. He has a lot of pelts on the wall. Yeah, I can see him getting even more this week. It’s a steady incline that we recognize.”
Hilton has five catches for 102 yards in the two games he has been active, playing 34 offensive snaps. Four of those catches have gone for first downs. In Week 16, he drew a penalty on a fourth-down play against the Philadelphia Eagles on a drive that ended in a go-ahead touchdown. Later, his first reception as a Cowboy converted a third-and-30, going for 52 yards in the fourth quarter on a drive that saw Dallas tie the game.
Without either play, the Cowboys likely lose.
Last week against the Tennessee Titans, he picked up 28 yards on third-and-10 on a drive that ended in tight end Dalton Schultz’s second touchdown of the game, which upped Dallas’ lead to 24-13 in the fourth quarter.
“Just football feel,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “I mean I think he’s just tremendous as far as you see the experience that he’s played, and as he’s kind of hopped right in there and jumped right into situations and roles. He can draw back on so much experience, and he can easily kind of figure out what we’re trying to accomplish with the scheme.”
Hilton is living in a hotel not far from the Cowboys' locker room at The Star.
“I mean I could’ve got out of there anytime,” Hilton said, “but it’s right there, so I might as well just stay and continue doing what I’m doing.”
When he arrived, he and offensive quality control coach Kyle Valero spent 10 hours a day going over the playbook. He was in various systems in his 10 years with the Indianapolis Colts, so learning a new offense wasn’t that difficult.
“But then I've also got to learn how to speak 'Cowboy' where they understand that I know what they’re talking about,” Hilton said.
The connection with Dak Prescott has been almost instantaneous.
“He is a quarterback-friendly receiver, he’s played a lot of football, and he’s a veteran,” Prescott said. “His body language speaks for itself. You know where he is going. That’s all a credit to him. Just being able to come in a couple of weeks ago and just make the impact that he has made -- making big-time catches, show up on third downs time and time again when his number is called and make those plays. But if you go back and look at this guy’s resume, there is no surprise at what he is doing.”
Hilton was selected to the Pro Bowl four times. In 2016, he led the NFL with 1,448 yards on 91 catches with six touchdowns. He has five 1,000-yard seasons. Just as Reggie Wayne taught him when he entered the league, Hilton is now passing his experience on to the Cowboys' receivers, like CeeDee Lamb
Lamb was having a Pro Bowl-type season before Hilton arrived, but the veteran has helped the third-year pro.
“I feel like it’s very important just for me to get inside his head and vice versa, and kinda help him feel his way into this offense because, as we know, if he’s in this offense, this offense can go any kind of way,” Lamb said. “I’m doing all I can on my end and vice versa, so if I have any questions that he’s already experienced, I know I can go to him and he’s going to give me an answer. Or if it’s route-running, techniques that he feels like it’s a little nuance that can create for me a little separation, yeah, I’m all ears.”
Hilton is 33. He has played in nine playoff games and made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2014. He knows his chances of winning a Super Bowl are dwindling and having that opportunity played a big part in why he wanted to join the Cowboys.
“I think T.Y. will go down as one of the great pickups,” Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan, “and I’m sure glad we got him.”
Does Hilton think about playing a full season in 2023 with the Cowboys?
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I mean we’ll see.”