Memorial Day: Looking Back at the Sacrifice and Patriotism of Pat Tillman

Jamal WilburgCorrespondent IMay 26, 2014

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAY 3-4 - FILE - In this Dec. 20, 1998, file photo, Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman celebrates after tackling New Orleans Saints running back Lamar Smith for a loss in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Tempe, Ariz. Pat's Run is filled with inspirational stories all wanting to honor the memory of NFL star-turned-soldier . For seven years, Sheldon Davidson had become the annual exclamation point to the run, climbing out of his wheelchair and dragging the paralyzed left side of his body across the final 42 yards. He died 42 days before this year's run, so his wife and daughter made the journey without him, honoring two heroes with every step.  (AP Photo/Roy Dabner, File)
ROY DABNER/Associated Press

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the nation. 

Pat Tillman was one of those warriors.

In 2002, Tillman walked away from the NFL to enlist in the Army and serve his country. He was a four-year NFL veteran for the Arizona Cardinals.

It might not make sense for a man to leave a profession that pays him about $1.2 a year for a new career that pays $18,000 a year. However, it makes complete sense when you understand who Tillman was.

He was never supposed to be a good college football player.

Tillman was not heavily recruited out of high school and received the last scholarship available at Arizona State. Despite being limited in size at just over 5’10”, he made the most of his opportunity and was named the Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year his senior season.

He was also a true student-athlete. He graduated with his degree in marketing in three-and-a-half academic years with a 3.84 GPA.

He was not supposed to be a good NFL player.

The Cardinals drafted him in the last round of the draft, making him a long shot to make the team. Not only did he make the team, but he overcame concerns that he was too small to play linebacker and too slow to play defensive back by becoming a two-year starter at free safety for the Cardinals.

He was always loyal.

According to Sports Illustrated, he turned down a $9 million, five-year deal from the St. Louis Rams in 2001. His agent, Frank Bauer, said his decision was to stay with the Cardinals no matter how it affected his personal finances.

This is very consistent with how he conducts his life. Patty is the type of guy who is very smart and very loyal. I remember when the Rams made their offer, he said, 'No, I want to stay with the Cardinals. If I have to play for the minimum, I don't care.' He axed the offer sheet and played another year. But he's always had a blueprint for what he wants to do. Now everything else is on the back burner.

Current Buffalo Bills wide receivers coach Rob Moore echoed those sentiments to Anna Stolzenburg from

Moore was a teammate of Tillman’s on the Cardinals. The two overcame a practice scuffle to become friends and sat next to each other on team flights. Moore told Stolzenburg about one of the conversations they had.

I remember distinctly, one of the conversations we had was how disappointed he was in himself because his exact words were, ‘I haven’t done a damn thing. My grandfather fought in a war and his dad fought in a war and I’m just a football player. I haven’t done anything and that doesn’t sit well with me.’ We had that conversation.

Tillman intended for his service with the Army Rangers to be a three-year break from the NFL and return upon completion.

He was killed in action during a friendly fire incident while serving in Afghanistan.

His sacrifice, selfless service and patriotism serve as a lesson for many. He has inspired a lot of people through his actions and will be remembered as a hero, leaving a lasting legacy behind.