Forget Tim Tebow for a second. Forget the Eastern Conference Finals, forget the French Open; even forget Nick Fairley’s DUI. Instead of surrounding yourself with the latest sports gossip this morning, try and immerse yourself in a story of selflessness, bravery, and heroism.
As we conclude this year’s Memorial Day weekend, I want to take one last moment to thank one of the most courageous Americans I can think of—a man who threw away the fame and fortunes of an NFL career in order to further protect our nation’s freedom—Pat Tillman.
For those of you who know his story, I’m sure you are nodding your head in agreement. For those of you who have never heard the name Pat Tillman, allow me to explain why he is my favorite NFL player of all time.
Tillman began his football career at Leland High School in San Jose, California, leading his team to a Central Coast Division I Football Championship. His exceptional play earned him a scholarship to Arizona State University, where he would become one of the nation’s top strong safeties.
Tillman’s senior year as a Sun-Devil was by far his best, helping his undefeated team reach the 1997 Rose Bowl as well as earning himself the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
In the 1998 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Tillman with their seventh round pick (266th overall). He played 16 games in each of his first three seasons, ranking second on the Cardinals defense in tackles in 2000 and earning a place on the All-Pro team.
September 11, 2001—we all know the tragic day. Tillman was especially shaken by the event.
At the conclusion of the 2001 season, Tillman decided to turn down Arizona’s three-year, $3.6 million contract offer and joined the United States Army. On September 12, 2001, Tillman had this to say in an interview on the Arizona Cardinals website.
"My great-grandfather was in Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up, you know everything, and has gone and fought in wars. And I really haven’t done a damn thing, as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for."
Tillman joined the Second Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. He served on multiple tours, spending some time in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom.
On April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed in action in Sperah, Afghanistan.
The Arizona Cardinals have since retired the No. 40 uniform. Tillman finished his NFL career with 60 games played, 344 tackles, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. But far more important are the accolades his country has given him for his dedicated service: the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals.
Pat Tillman was as competitive as the next guy but—when it came down to it—he realized football was just a game. There are far more important things in this world like freedom, family and friends.
Football was Pat’s passion, but it was not his life. As we move past Memorial Day this Tuesday morning, we must honor Pat’s life by showing gratitude to our troops overseas, our veterans—both alive and fallen—and the stars and stripes that our flag stands for.
R.I.P. Patrick Daniel Tillman