“Fine,” Luck said Wednesday. “Cool dude.”
It wasn’t until training camp that Luck, the No. 1 overall pick, couldn’t help but notice Hilton, who the Colts had traded up to select in the third round.
“He started making plays,” Luck said of those Anderson University preseason workouts. “Obviously Reggie (Wayne) was sort of the guy and I think we had Donnie Avery as well, and T.Y. just showed up.”
The modern-era Colts have an undeniably strong connection to passing combos. Quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receiver Marvin Harrison set a NFL record with 116 touchdown passes, a mark Manning has confidently predicted will never be broken. Harrison was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in July. Expect Manning, a five-time NFL MVP, to join Harrison in Canton, Ohio, in five years.
Reggie Wayne became a bridge to Luck from Harrison and Manning. Wayne had supplanted Harrison as the No. 1 receiver before Harrison played his last game in 2008. Manning exited Indianapolis after the 2011 season. Wayne became Luck’s go-to guy in 2012, but Hilton emerged as the No. 1 receiver in 2013.
And it has been Luck-Hilton ever since. The most obvious reason the Colts have won twice in five games this season is Hilton, who caught 18 passes for 345 yards as well as the game-winning touchdown passes from Luck in the fourth quarter of home wins against San Diego and Chicago.
Perhaps some day Luck-Hilton will resonate as much as Manning-Harrison or Manning-Wayne.
“Ahhh, we’re trying to go there,” Hilton said. “Are we there yet? I don’t know. But for us, we just go out there and play football, you know? Whatever everybody has to say, it is what it is.”
In 60 games together, Luck and Hilton have hooked up on 280 receptions for 4,344 yards and 25 TDs. Those numbers put them behind Manning-Harrison but ahead of Manning-Wayne for the same number of games. Manning-Harrison amassed 384 catches for 5,337 yards and 47 TDs. Manning-Wayne amounted to 214 catches for 2,914 yards and 21 TDs.
“That’s what you work for, that and winning championships,” Luck said of combo comparisons. “Those are some pretty prolific combinations right there. They’re great ones to shoot for.
“That being said, we’re not trying to replicate anything that those guys did. I think we’re both our own people. Playing with Reggie and hearing stories about Marv and also Peyton, how much respect both of us and everybody on the offensive skill side of the ball has for what has happened here in this building is immense. But hopefully we can also forge our own path.”
As a rookie, Luck gushed about Wayne, calling No. 87 the best teammate he ever had. Now in his fifth season and NFL’s highest-paid player, Luck gushes about Hilton, a Pro Bowl selection the past two seasons.
“Like any relationship professionally, personally, it takes time to build,” Luck said. “T.Y. is a heck of a guy. He’s a great teammate. He has a joy for football. Life is infectious when around him.
“Professionally, on the field, it’s just reps and being around each other, being at practice, throwing sessions, little things like that, they do pay off. And then game experience, it’s hard to replicate. When you’ve got it for multiple years with a guy, it makes it that much easier to play with him and read body language, how he comes out of breaks, communication. We’ve both have definitely put the work in to make it work.”
Hilton’s sub-4.4 speed in the 40 often demands double teams. Still, he gets open, hence his nickname “The Ghost.” What remains to be seen is how effective he can be against the NFL’s best defenders and defenses, especially when cornerbacks are in press coverage and trying to get away with holding him.
“Reggie taught me everything I need to know,” Hilton said of 2012. “All the guys that’s in the room, I’m just trying to help them out and make sure they’re ready to go. Whatever question they ask, I’m there to answer.”
The Colts visit the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans (3-2) on Sunday night. Hilton has had some monster games against the Texans. In 2014, he caught 9 passes for 223 yards and 1 score. His trip the previous year to the Lone Star State produced 7 catches for 121 yards and 3 touchdowns. And later in 2013, he had 8 catches for 78 yards. The Colts won each time.
Hilton offers an amusing estimation on how well he and Luck have bonded.
“We’re still finding our groove, still finding our stride,” he said. “Right now, we’re looking pretty good. We’ve just got to keep it going. We’re still figuring each other out, but I’m pretty sure we’re about 90 percent right now knowing each other.”