Too bad this writer can’t cheer on Mike Hilton at the Super Bowl
Once a Pittsburgh Steeler, always a Pittsburgh Steeler.
I have read or heard many comments insinuating this specific belief about former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton leading to superbowl LVI, where Hilton is currently Cincinnati Bengals the team will fight with the Los Angeles Rams for the right to put their fingerprints on the entire Lombardi Trophy.
Trying to decide whether Hilton is friend or foe to the Steelers varies by individual, and the answer can be polarizing. Last week on our The Steelers Hangover podcast, BTSC podcast producer Bryan Anthony Davis posed this same question to Tony Defeo and myself. Tony and I had completely different responses, but our feelings about his time with the Steelers are understandably similar. While Tony still considers Hilton a friend he’s comfortable cheering on in the big game, I can never cheer on Hilton again while he’s playing for the Bengals. The Bengals are the enemy, and so by association.
I believe the majority of my Steelers Nation family shares similar feelings about the man. I have nothing but the utmost respect for all of his accomplishments in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. He truly is an inspirational story, and his success in the NFL reads like a made-for-TV movie script. Undrafted and undersized, a free agent with merely marginal speed. He had quick runs with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots, but failed to make either list because he was too small to be a safety and too slow to be a corner. His professional destiny changed when he was signed by the Steelers and moved to the slot corner.
I’ve written several flattering articles about Hilton during his tenure with the Steelers, usually because of his unquestioned and often unmatched efforts. He was incredibly inconsistent in his coverage to start his career, but he has steadily improved over the years. Even with coverage struggles, two attributes of his game could never be questioned: his effort and his grit. He has the heart of a giant imprisoned in his small body. He regularly takes boulders where he drops over 100 pounds. to his opponent. Playing coin slots at the highest level is not for the faint of heart.
The Steelers entered the last offseason with tons of needs and precious little salary cap space due to a reduced cap thanks to the effects of the pandemic. Tough decisions had to be made, and there’s no way to bring back everyone the Steelers would have liked to see back. Mike Hilton was one such victim of the Cape. According to some reports, he was not even offered a contract.
I’m sure it was because they knew they couldn’t offer anything close to what he would receive on the open market. A ridiculously low offer would have been disrespectful to a player the Steelers hierarchy had great respect for. He was no longer a fringe player in the NFL, playing on a series of one-year contracts. He was one of the best slot corners in the league and he had earned his financial security through hard work and dedication to his craft. As we now know, he signed a 4-year, $24 million contract with the Bengals last offseason.
Money and security that change the lives of Hilton and her family. No rational Steelers fan should blame him for a penny of that money, or for signing the contract. I couldn’t be happier for him and his family. He earned every penny through his blood, sweat and tears.
Hilton has spoken openly this week in numerous interviews leading up to the Super Bowl about his respect for the Steelers, that he has no hard feelings about how things ended and how much he appreciates the organization that gave him his life. given his big chance. Not a burnt bridge as far as I know.
However, I will never be able to root for him as long as he has these scratches on his helmet. Similar to how I felt about Rod Woodson winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Once Woodson retired, it was like he never left.
Hilton has an incredibly tough Super Bowl assignment as he will no doubt be tasked with covering for the NFL’s most dominant receiver this season, Rams WR Cooper Kupp. How dominant are we talking here, you may ask? He was the three-time winner of the crown; leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown receptions. He even received a single vote for the 2021 NFL MVP. It was as good a season for a wide receiver as the league has ever seen. Kupp has been incredibly, almost oddly, consistent.
The matchup appears to be a mismatch at first glance. Hilton has improved his coverage, but it seems highly unlikely he can slow down this magical season for Kupp. I wouldn’t be too quick to count Hilton out in any game, knowing that he always tackled daunting tasks head-on and overcame seemingly impossible odds to make his NFL dreams a reality.
It’s a shame I can’t root for him, though my nostalgic side might smile a little somewhere deep inside if he manages to shock the world, yet again.