Super Bowl XLIII and Pat Tillman

NC NighthawkAnalyst IApril 7, 2017


We can only imagine.  What……if?

Would Pat Tillman have been playing this Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals at the age of 32 in Super Bowl XLIII?

He was the team’s starting strong safety who put his football career on hold after 9/11 in order to join the US Army, only to be killed by “friendly fire” while serving in Afghanistan.

Tillman was not exemplary because he was an NFL athlete and not even because he was an Army Ranger. Though, just by becoming either, Tillman already had elevated himself above most everyone by nearly every measure that matters in contemporary life in our United States of America.

While those two roles simply made him more visible,  Tillman was exemplary because of his character.

Soldiers will watch the Arizona Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII from a U.S.O. center in Afghanistan that bears Tillman’s name and was built with money donated by the NFL in his memory.  Journalists are in Tampa, Florida, sizing him for a Super Bowl ring.

Two players on the National Football Conference championship Cardinals squad were on the team in Tillman’s final season: the man who replaced him in the starting lineup, Adrian Wilson, and the long snapper, Nathan Hodel.

Nevertheless, Pat Tillman’s presence is still felt in the Arizona Cardinals organization, even five years after his death.  The 2008 team embodying his selflessness and success against great odds.

Tillman’s No. 40 replica jersey is still a top seller for fans aged 2 to 92.  He is even idolized by people who never saw him play football.

In 1998 Tillman was selected in the seventh round, at No. 226 overall, by the Cardinals, who played their home games then at Sun Devil Stadium. With Tillman a rookie, Arizona recorded its first winning season since 1984 and advanced to the postseason.

The Cardinals upset Dallas in the first round before losing at Minnesota in a divisional playoff game. It was the franchise’s last playoff appearance until this season.

We can only imagine……what if?

Imagine the frenzy that would have circled Tillman this week. What if the longest-tenured Cardinal, who had overcome being selected in the seventh round, 226th overall in the 1998 draft, would have ascended  to the NFL's grandest stage?

We can only imagine.

Pat Tillman was the loyal player who turned down an offer that was double his salary in order to remain with the Cardinals. After the 2000 season, in which Tillman set a franchise record for tackles (144), he was offered $9 million over five years to sign with the St. Louis Rams.

The NFL plans to honor Tillman with a video tribute. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says that the league has also asked NBC, which has broadcast rights, to cut away at some point during the telecast to show Americans soldiers watching the game at the Pat Tillman USO Centre in Afghanistan, a recreational facility named for the late player.

The NFL donated $250,000 to the construction of the center and Aiello says the league has also lent its support to the foundation that was set up in Tillman’s memory. His widow, Marie, was a special guest of Commissioner Roger Goodell at last year’s Super Bowl.

Cris Collinsworth, who was a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals and is now a commentator for NBC, recently called for Tillman to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. There is resistance to the idea; while Tillman was an excellent player, it is generally felt that his achievements were not substantial enough to merit a place among the sport’s all-time greats.

Whether or not he is ultimately commemorated in this way, Tillman’s life and death will forever endure in the hearts of both NFL fans and non-football fans around the globe.



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--Samuel Goldwyn

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