By: Bob George/BosSports.net
May 28, 2007

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Memorial Day now takes on a new meaning in Foxborough.

Things have changed for the Patriots a lot lately. The once pristine franchise, which has exuded a veneer unlike few other sports franchises in recent memory, has had quite a bit of reputation-changing moments within the past year. Tom Brady is cavorting with a Victoria's Secret model, while all this time his movie star/ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child. Bill Belichick has had to deal with prying queries over his separation from his wife Debbie and an alleged girlfriend he had while working for the Jets. The Patriots have had to answer for drafting Brandon Meriweather and trading for Randy Moss, neither of whom would ever be on Lord Baden-Powell's short list for poster children for the Boy Scouts of America.

These sorts of things can be dealt with easily. Death cannot be.

Life's worst tragedy has clobbered Foxborough and Patriot Nation on a day where the USA honors those brave people who have died in the service of their country. It would be a tragedy no matter what the day of the year might have been, but the fact that it is Memorial Day makes it both ironic and just a bit sadder.

But no less tragic. Marquise Hill, a 2004 second round choice out of LSU who could never seem to break into the mix on the defensive line, drowned in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana following a Sunday night accident while riding jet skis. His body was recovered on Monday at about 2:15 PM Central time following an all-night search, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Hill was never really going to break into a defensive line triumvirate which features first round luminaries such as Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork. Hill was never really a solid lock as a backup. He played in only 13 total games over three seasons, with eight games in 2005 being his career high. He registered two tackles and one assist in 2005, with zero career sacks.

Most observers saw Hill as a cut this summer, especially with highly touted draftee Kareem Brown (taken out of Miami in the fourth round) waiting in the wings to take his job. Hill was signed through 2008, but his cap hit if he was cut was negligible ($236,000).

None of this is a problem any longer. The Patriots, needless to say, wish it still were.

Hill was out with a female companion Sunday night jet skiing. Neither were wearing a life vest or a tracking device, according to reports. About 9:30 PM, cries for help were heard. According to the Times-Picayune, Hill was rescued, but dove back into the water to try to find the as-of-yet unidentified woman. The woman, according to the report, grabbed onto some piling in the lake until she was rescued. Hill was never seen again.

Amidst the obvious grief the Hill family and Patriot Nation are going through right now, one has to wonder how a tragedy like this was allowed to happen. These sorts of things are written into all player contracts. NFL players are generally forbidden to engage in off-field activity which could be career or life threatening. In this case, you have two people who wore no safety devices at all, including protective helmets which many jet skiers wear as basic protection.

Another question everyone will want to know is why these two were out jet skiing in the evening. This will then likely beg the question of whether or not alcohol was involved. Jet skiing is generally done as a daytime activity. What then could have possessed Hill and his companion to go out on such a dangerous pursuit of fun and excitement?

Sometimes young people (Hill would have been 25 in August) are overcome with inopportune moments of hubris, which can sometimes have disastrous results. Hill and his companion perhaps were caught up in a "what the hell" moment and decided to just go out and get crazy. Hill never once gave thought to getting killed instead of crazy. This sort of thing happens all too often, but it becomes big news when it happens to a celebrity.

Now you have a family in tears and mourning, a team which just got punched in the stomach, and a fan base deep in thoughts and prayers. Nothing else really matters right now except Hill's family, and how they will deal with this horrible news. The players (Randall Gay was present at the scene of the recovery, according to the Times-Picayune), who are off until Thursday, will have to figure out how to deal with the loss of one of their brothers. And everyone who roots for the Patriots feels a great sense of loss for someone who, despite the fact that he wasn't heard from as much as predicted, was still a Patriot and part of the family.

If nothing else, Hill should be remembered as a hero for at least rescuing his companion. If the reports that say he dove back in to try to save her are true, it is a compelling and noble valedictory for the life of Hill. It is still a shame that this had to happen in the first place, but history will look kindly on Hill for the brave thing he did in his final minutes on earth.

For many others in the area, Hill was already a hero. Hill was back on his home turf helping out with the still-ongoing relief efforts from Hurricane Katrina. Many NFL players who have ties to Louisiana have done so in the nearly two years since the area was ravaged by the powerful hurricane which literally destroyed greater New Orleans. Hill was there helping out his neighbors as well as his family. One can only wonder what the neighbors are thinking right now, never mind the family.

You cannot discount the possibility that, if the Patriots were indeed going to release him, he would have perhaps latched onto another team and tried to continue his NFL career (anyone out there remember Greg Spires?). Be that as it may, Hill still had some promise as an NFL lineman, but that it a promise that we now will never know.

So, as you put away your flag after honoring the memory of fallen war veterans, you the Patriot fan should add Marquise Hill to your thoughts. He may not have been the most productive Patriot defensive lineman in history, but he was still part of the family. And lost family members hurt everyone in the family.

And if this causes even one player to not act recklessly off the field, his death will carry even further meaning.

To the family of the woman he rescued, the meaning is already further than anything else.


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