Unheard of: Baltimore Brigade WR Joe Hills on cusp of 100th straight game with a touchdown catch

Joe Hills’ run of 99 consecutive games with a touchdown catch is already an Arena Football League record that might never be matched again.

But the Baltimore Brigade wide receiver balks at the idea of comparing his achievement to “The Streak” compiled by former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., who shattered Lou Gehrig’s legendary record of 2,130 consecutive games played with 2,632 straight games of his own.

“I don’t like to compare them,” Hills said. “I literally like to live in the moment. Right now, the streak is what it is. It means the world to me, and the day that I don’t score a touchdown, I think that’s when it will all hit me. But Cal Ripken’s streak is a monumental thing. I don’t know if anybody will ever break that record.

“But I want to push my record as far as possible. I don’t know how many years I’ve got, but the goal is to score as many touchdowns as I can to help my team win.”

Hills’ modesty does not diminish what the 31-year-old wideout has done in eight AFL seasons. The league’s Wide Receiver of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and a five-time All-Arena selection, Hills can reach triple digits in Saturday afternoon’s road game against the Columbus Destroyers. AFL analyst Sherdrick Bonner said he finds it hard to imagine anyone will match Hills’ feat.

“Everyone knows that he scores touchdowns,” said Bonner, who played 15 years for the AFL’s Arizona Rattlers and Chicago Rush. “So, every team is trying to stop him week in and week out for 99 straight games, and a lot of those guys are sick and tired of seeing it, but they still can’t stop him.

“When you really think about how crazy the streak is, it’s a testament to him because he’s been able to endure and keep his body in great shape to be able to withstand it all because it’s a tough game. A lot of those shots, he’s going up against the boards and over the boards, but when you get down in that red zone, he can still strike you. Down in that red zone, there’s nobody better.”

Hills’ streak began June 29, 2012, when he was playing for the Tampa Bay Storm. But he said the streak didn’t dawn on him until his first season with the Jacksonville Sharks, on Aug. 8, 2015, in a 36-33 win against the New Orleans VooDoo, when he tied Chris Jackson for second in league history with touchdown receptions in 52 consecutive games.

“That’s when it really started to hit home,” he recalled. “I never really thought about getting to 100.”

Hills tied Damian Harrell’s AFL record of 78 straight games with a touchdown catch on July 8, 2017 in the Storm’s 41-39 loss at the Cleveland Gladiators, but he said the accomplishment has paled compared to his top priority of helping his teams.

“I just usually try to line up and do my job and score as many touchdowns as I can to help my team win and get a championship,” he said. “That’s basically the main goal. If I don’t score any touchdowns, then I’m not really doing anything to help my team win, and that’s kind of the gist of the whole streak itself.”

Brigade coach Omarr Smith said the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hills’ combination of size, hands and quickness make him a difficult matchup for many defensive backs. Smith, whose Brigade defenses surrendered 24 touchdowns and 699 yards on 64 receptions in seven games against Hills over the past two seasons, said double-teaming is a risky option because it leaves other receivers in single man-to-man coverage.

“If you do that, then somebody else is going to score,” Smith said. “You don’t going into a game saying, ‘Well, we’re probably going to lose, but we’re going to keep Joe Hills from scoring.’ You’re trying to win a football game, and at the end of the day, you have to play man, and that’s why Joe Hills has the streak.”

Hills is quick to spread credit to the offensive coordinators who have trusted him enough to start him, offensive linemen who give quarterbacks enough time to find him, and quarterbacks who have targeted him in the red zone.

“Everybody wants to give me all the credit, but it’s really a team effort,” he said. “I’ve had quarterbacks who have said in the huddle, ‘Hey, Hills, we need to get you a touchdown early so that we can get the streak out of the way and play some football.’ I’ve been a part of that, and I’m very grateful.”

Brigade quarterback Shane Boyd, who has completed 13 of his 31 touchdown passes this season to Hills, said the duo has rediscovered the chemistry it had when they were teammates on the Storm.

“He brings a playmaking ability that presides over most,” Boyd said. “His resume speaks for himself with all the accolades, the touchdowns, his streak. He’s a guy that commands a lot of attention. He’s a guy that other teams have to game-plan for. What that does is it allows the other receivers to go out and make plays, and it makes the offense go. He impacts the game a great deal.”

Hills, who usually spikes the ball after reaching the end zone, said he will likely hold onto it Saturday and hand it to a staff member for posterity reasons.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” he said, adding that his wife Rachel and children Joseph Jr. and Janelle will be unable to attend the game. “It will mean the world to me. My family’s been pushing for it. My wife has probably been the biggest advocate for me getting to 100. At the end of the day, it really won’t mean much if we don’t win, but the streak is what it is. It’s a hell of a thing that we have going right now.”

Smith would not say whether there is a plan to help Hills get the milestone early against the Destroyers, but said the goal is not to stop Saturday.

“Hopefully, history doesn’t end at 100,” he said. “I’m more concerned with that. Hopefully, it doesn’t end here.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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