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Ike likes Super Bowl

Hilliard has come a long way since neck injury

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Posted: Monday January 22, 2001 11:34 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 23, 2001 12:53 PM

  Ike Hilliard Ike Hilliard gets a lift from a teammate after scoring a touchdown against the Vikings. AP

By Josie Karp,

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ike Hilliard was Jim Fassel's first draft pick the first year the coach took over the Giants. At that first training camp, Fassel formed a nickname for the wide receiver out of Florida based on his hustle and determination: Throwback.

First impressions led to lasting ones. The first day he arrived at the Super Bowl, Fassel succinctly summed up Hilliard.

"He's a tough, competitive guy," Fassel said.

Few people expect New York to be able to rack up huge offensive numbers against the Ravens' defense. That means few people expect a Giants wide receiver to be a Super Bowl impact player.

So why should anyone take too much interest in Hilliard, a little player who is listed in the Giants' media guide at 5-11, 195 pounds?

Because if the Giants are indeed a blue-collar team more full of grit than glamour, Hilliard is the team's poster boy.

After reiterating this week how much he likes Hilliard, Fassel started his next sentence with the words, "When Ike broke his neck."

What he said afterward is a blur because those other words have a way of thrusting the kind of reality on a situation that momentarily renders one deaf.

"When Ike broke his neck."

It was the second game of his rookie year, 1997, Hilliard recalled from a podium at the Super Bowl.

"The play was a seam route," Hilliard said. "We caught the defense in a cover 3 coverage and I took a pretty good shot."

The ligament between his sixth and seventh vertebrae gave way.

At that point, on his way to having part of his left hip removed and put in his neck along with a pin to repair the vertebrae, how far was Ike Hilliard from the Super Bowl?

"There were days I didn't think that I would make it back simply because it was a neck injury," Hilliard said.

The second snap that stands out for Hilliard is the first one he made it back to play the following season.

"It was a running play," Hilliard said. "It wasn't a reception. It was a strong-side run and I had to come down and block [Redskins safety] Sam Shade. He blew me up pretty good. After I took that hit, I felt like I was going to be fine."

Hilliard is at the Super Bowl. He is fine, all right. Just fine.

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