MIAMI, Fla. – Just over six months ago, Tyreek Hill was uncertain whether he would ever play another game in the NFL.
He had become the object of scorn among many Kansas City Chiefs fans when audio surfaced early last year in which his then-fiancee accused him of hurting their 3-year-old son. The team banned him from its facility, the district attorney began an investigation, and the NFL and the Kansas Department for Children and Families got involved.
He went from potentially landing a massive contract to potentially looking for a new line of work.
“It was hard,” Hill said. “I'm not going to lie.”
All of which makes this week at the Super Bowl seem so much like a dream.
The district attorney eventually declined to press charges after being unable to determine who had caused the injuries to the child. The NFL decided not to suspend Hill, who had been kicked off his team at Oklahoma State after another domestic violence incident, because it could not conclude that he had violated its personal conduct policy.
The Chiefs immediately welcomed him back in time for training camp, and that big contract he was close to landing? Hill put pen to paper on the $54 million, three-year extension ahead of the first preseason game in August.
“I feel like I'm truly blessed. Each and every day I get up and play the game I love, be around people who are loving, and I get to be around my kids and be in their lives,” Hill said this week.
“I feel like if God gives you breath in your lungs, you're blessed right there, because that's just another opportunity to be a better you than yesterday. And I'm still working on myself each and every day, to be a better man and a better father and all of it.”
Hill spends more time with his kids these days, even finding time during the stress of Super Bowl preparations to play with them on the plush hotel campus the Chiefs are calling home.
He invests in charitable causes in Kansas City, volunteers with local schools, and his own foundation works to provide opportunities for single parents and at-risk youth.
“I would go back to his first year with us when there were some question marks about him coming into the league. We never had any issues with him,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said.
“He always was where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to be doing, accountable to the team, listening to his coaches, a good teammate. We've seen that grow over the last three or four years. And I sense a heightened level of maturity this year, which is probably a natural byproduct of the challenges that he's gone through this year.”
Indeed, the way Hill acts away from the field means as much to coach Andy Reid as anything he does on it.
“I'm proud of him for that, to see growth in somebody," Reid said. "You like that with these young guys. He's doing well as a father and he's doing well as a football player and we're lucky to have him.”
It's hard to argue that last point.
Even with his new contract, Hill is a significant bargain for the Chiefs given everything he does. He caught 58 passes for 860 yards and seven touchdowns this season, despite playing only 12 games because of a dislocated collarbone suffered in Week 1 against Jacksonville.
And in the AFC championship game against Tennessee, he caught five passes for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns, helping the Chiefs end their 50-year AFC championship drought.
Even when he's not catching passes, Hill is a crucial part of the offense. Teams often double-team him lest they let the speedster get behind their coverage. That opens up the field for the Chiefs' group of pass-catchers, and Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins have both been beneficiaries this postseason.
Kelce had 10 catches for 134 yards against Houston in the divisional round, helping the Chiefs rally from a 24-0 deficit, and Watkins had seven catches for 114 yards and a score in the conference championship game.
“When I was at Philly," Reid said, "I had Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. Both of those guys were in a different stratosphere. They were all 6-foot-8, and you see that with centers in the NBA. It's a different world when you're up there. Not a lot of guys are walking around like you. Those centers have their own special camp they do and everything in the NBA.
“Well,” Reid continued, circling back to a question about Hill, “it's that way with fast guys. Fast guys, they're kind of going faster than the other guys and they can get away with things that a lot of other guys cannot."
Hill doesn't intend to be a decoy on Sunday, though. He expects to be right in the middle of the action. He knows how close he was to never stepping on the field again, and he's relishing the chance to do it on the sport's biggest stage.
“This game is where you leave your legacy at. If you want to be remembered by people, if you want to be remember good or bad, this is the game,” he said.
“This game right here is where you separate yourself from a lot of players. A lot of players say they want to be the best player. Here's your chance. Prove it.”