Hill hadn’t yet made an impact on the field in New England — a second-round draft pick out of Louisiana State in 2004, he had played in 14 career games through his first three years, but by many accounts was poised for a breakout year in 2007, intent on proving that he wasn’t a bust.
But over Memorial Day weekend that year, back in his native New Orleans with his fiancee and their young son, Hill went Jet Skiing with a female friend on Lake Pontchartrain. Neither had on a personal flotation device. The Jet Ski capsized, and Hill helped the friend to a wooden piling at the base of a bridge but then was swept away by currents so strong not even a 6-foot-6, 300 pound man could fight through them.
Hill was just 24 years old.
After watching New England acquire players like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas that offseason, Hill told friend and then-Patriot Randall Gay that he sensed another Super Bowl in the team’s future. He was nearly right.
Last November, the Pats returned to New Orleans for the first time since Hill’s death, and Robert Kraft spoke of how the team coped that season without the super-sized man who often had a smile on his face.
“You think how fragile everything in life is, and how lucky we all are,” Kraft said before his team’s faceoff with the Saints. “We decided to fly the whole team down, and his mom spoke to everyone in the church, and was so articulate and so wonderful, and it meant so much to her that we came.
“It was one of the things that brought our team together in a very special way.”
Everyone who knew Hill has their own memories of him — his agent, Albert Elias, will remember that whenever he saw Hill’s name come up in his caller ID, he knew he was either going to laugh or get an earful; Kraft couldn’t recall ever seeing Hill scowl. I’ll never forget the time Hill was singing Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” in the locker room one day, trying to hit those impossibly high notes.
Jarvis Green, whose relationship with his fellow Louisiana native began when Green hosted Hill as a recruit at LSU, has set out to make sure that Hill’s beloved son, Ma’Shy, is provided for, and began wearing Hill’s old shoulder pads. Hill wanted nothing more to have a son he could dote on in the way that his own father never did with him, and when he learned that his high school sweetheart Inell Benn was pregnant, he immediately began buying blue items, even before an ultrasound, convinced they would have a boy.
Hill is the only Pats player to die during his playing career, and the team keeps a small, glass enclosed memorial in the locker room to ensure that he won’t soon be forgotten.