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Friday, December 21, 2007
Updated: December 28, 11:22 AM ET
Marquise Hill, 1982-2007

By Jeff Pearlman
Special to Page 2

"One of my professors said once, 'We cry when people die, but we should be happy because they're going to a better place. We should cry when a baby is born, because that's the beginning of death.'"
-- Marquise Hill, 2004

For most 24-year-old football players, whose livelihoods are based upon vivaciousness and physicality, the idea of death is as foreign as North Tarawa. It is a distant, incomprehensible concept. Death?

Marquise Hill
After starring at LSU, Marquise Hill was a second-round pick by the Patriots in 2004.

What's death?

Yet if there were any comfort to the family and friends of Marquise Hill, who drowned on May 28 after a personal-watercraft-skiing accident, it was that the New England Patriots defensive lineman truly seemed to grasp the frailty of life -- and used that knowledge to live feverously.

Unlike his professional peers, the majority of whom picked conventional majors like communications or business or physical education, Hill attended Louisiana State both to play football and to focus on a field unavailable at most major universities -- mortuary science.

It was a natural choice for the New Orleans-born Hill, whose grandmother was a mortician and whose first job was cleaning out hearses at the local morgue. Hill also happened to grow up in a rough section of the city, witnessing lives getting taken with all-too-great frequency. According to Hill, his neighborhood averaged 12 murders per year. In a 2004 profile, the Boston Herald suggested myriad nicknames for the rookie, including "The Undertaker," "The Grave Digger" and "The Mortician."

None stuck.

"You know the [saying], 'They're dying to see you,'" Hill told the Herald. "[New Orleans is] the murder capital. You see dead bodies every day. You drive around the neighborhood and see someone laid out, yellow tape everywhere It's just common."

Unfailingly upbeat, Hill spent his first season with the Patriots glued to the bench and never complained. Instead, he filled the locker room with an endless stream of banter that kept a relatively tight-laced team loose. He was equally loquacious back home in New Orleans, where he spent the offseasons working out with Patriots teammate Randall Gay. "It was so quiet in there the other day," Gay told the Baton Rouge Advocate after Hill's passing. "He never shut up. He was always talking. Every time we have a break and I come home, I work out, and he was always in the weight room. 'What are you doing? I've been here since six.'"

Hill maintained an especially close relationship with his mother, Sherry, who raised her son alone and treated him as both offspring and best friend. Never a fan of watersports, she expressed concern to her son about partaking in aquatic activities. "I didn't like the ski boat," she told the Advocate. "Me and him got into it. But he said, 'Momma, when it's my time to go, I'm going. You can't stop that.'"

That's the way he looked at it. He wasn't afraid of death.

"Just a couple of days before this happened he said, 'Mom, you know, everybody has to give an account on what they can do. It was just amazing how we talked just before all this happened. He always was concerned with doing what's right. He'd say, 'Man can't play God.'

Those are some of the last words he told me, the last conversation we had."

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.