Remembering Pat Tillman, a Hero on and off the Field

Tommy Switzgable ’15
EE Staff Writer

As we transition from October to November, we forget about Halloween, tricks, and treats, and start to look forward to the elements of turkey, family, and especially Veterans. Veterans Day is one of America’s proudest holidays, as we remember those who fought for our country and risked their lives for our freedom. When this day comes around, the mind of a true football fan immediately jumps to the story of the beloved Pat Tillman.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was born in San Jose, California on November 6th, 1976. An exceptional athlete, Tillman grew to be the star of Leland High School’s football team, leading them to a California state championship, and receiving a full football scholarship to Arizona State University. Known for his fearlessness on the field, Tillman started all four years for the Sun Devils, leading them to a Rose Bowl Game and becoming the Pac-10’s defensive player of the year in 1997.
On April 19th, 1998, Tillman experienced what every boy in the United States dreamed of; the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the 226th pick in the 1998 NFL draft. In the NFL, Tillman moved from the comfort of linebacker, in which he played in college, to safety. As a rookie he started 10 games out of the 16 played throughout an NFL season, which is unheard of for a 7th round draft pick. Throughout his 4 year NFL career with the Cardinals, Tillman recorded a total of 238 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble.
Eight long and confusing months after the September 11th attacks which shook America, Tillman made a decision that caused everyone in the NFL to stop dead in their tracks; Pat Tillman turned down a 3-year $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals to enlist in the US Army, showing an astonishing loyalty to his country. Tillman and his brother Kevin, a promising pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, began their training at Fort Lewis, months before being deployed to Iraq.
On April 24th, 2002, a little after the 5 year anniversary of his NFL Draft Day, Pat Tillman, was tragically killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. It rained in Phoenix that day, fittingly, as the city wept for the loss of a true leader on and off the field. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Award for the sacrifices he made to instill freedom in his country. The Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Cardinals also made it their priorities to retire Pat Tillman’s #42 and #40, respectively.
His military uniform resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio where it will stand the test of time. I remember seeing it as a young boy and understanding the courage that he brought to the gridiron, and the courage that he brought to the battlefield.
Although the stories of every Veteran differ, their loyalty and sacrifices to this country deserve our highest admiration.

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