Before Peyton Manning came to the Mile High City, there was another beloved Peyton in Broncos Country — former running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis was part of a running back stable in 2008 whose depth was, shall we say, tested. Right now, Hillis could use your prayers.
According to reports, Hillis sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his children in a swimming accident in Pensacola, FL.
So what exactly happened? At this point, details seem sparse but reports indicate that this was a swimming accident, possibly in the ocean, and that Peyton Hillis had to act in order to save his children from drowning. Which he did.
Now, Hillis fights for his own life in the ICU and all of Broncos Country sends their well wishes to him and his family. What a traumatic event.
This news comes just days after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was rushed to the ICU after going through cardiac arrest during a primetime NFL game. The good news regarding both Peyton Hillis and Damar Hamlin at this point is that both are alive, and both are reportedly improving daily. Huge shoutout to all workers in the medical field and first responders. You are all true heroes!
Remembering Peyton Hillis as a member of the Denver Broncos
Peyton Hillis’ fame as an NFL player reached its peak when he wore no. 40 with the Cleveland Browns. He graced the cover of the Madden 12 video game and he became a fan favorite regardless of what team you rooted for at the time.
But Hillis got his opportunity in Cleveland thanks to one of many ridiculous trades made by former Broncos head coach and de facto GM Josh McDaniels. The Broncos, under McDaniels, traded Hillis along with draft picks to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn. At the time, it was somewhat understandable because Quinn was a first-round pick in 2007. He must have seemed a worthwhile reclamation project for McDaniels at the time.
Unfortunately, acquiring Quinn cost the Broncos one of the most entertaining players in the league.
Hillis really emerged in that 2008 season, a season that will certainly go down in the history books as one of the most infamous in Broncos lore.
The Broncos cycled through what felt like about 100 different running backs that year. Peyton Hillis was actually on the roster as a “fullback” but on a Thursday night matchup against the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos had to turn to Hillis after losing all of Michael Pittman, Selvin Young, Tatum Bell (who was called away from his job selling cell phones at the time), Andre Hall, PJ Pope, and Ryan Torain.
All of those backs received carries in the 2008 season but when Hillis was called upon in that Cleveland game, he came through in a big way. Late in the 4th quarter trailing by three points, Hillis got the call on a 4th and 1 play but was stopped well behind the line of scrimmage. He fought for extra yardage and somehow created a first down to keep the Broncos’ comeback hopes alive and they finished the job, erasing a 23-10 deficit and winning 34-30.
The next season, McDaniels was hired and Hillis’ role was nonexistent, really for no good reason. When he was traded to Cleveland and received a full-time role, he ran for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. During the 2010 season he had over 1,600 yards from scrimmage, 13 total touchdowns, and 61 total receptions.
The result was the same (a loss) but there were some notable and significant differences for the Denver Broncos in their first game post-Nathaniel Hackett.
He played in the NFL until 2014 but that 2010 season and some of his early memories with the Denver Broncos remain the highlight of his professional career, and Broncos Country still remembers Peyton Hillis very fondly. Praying he continues to improve and is able to embrace his children very soon.