Arizona State has quietly continued a tradition that began six years ago to commemorate a hero. No, this is not a televised practice or a sold-out scrimmage at a 100,000 seat stadium; one event that fans of all sports can join together took place once again Saturday.
Annually since 2005, nearly 30,000 participants honor the legacy of one of the most iconic Sun Devils of all time, Pat Tillman. The event is certainly not a glorified scrimmage; it is a 4.2-mile run/walk through Tempe and ASU’s campus.
Although travel plans are made in advance for this event, the highlight of the day is not two scout team behemoths knocking each other’s lights out. It is the joy of witnessing a community coming together for a purpose.
The hype and excitement that Pat’s Run garners does not compare to many pigskin enthusiasts’ joy for the first day of spring practice or national signing day. In fact, in some spots across the country, national signing day is a holiday.
For Sun Devil fans, Pat’s Run is a day to honor the legacy of a true student-athlete. Tillman was a true fan’s favorite player, not just a one-and-done highlight reel athlete searching for the coin.
With media coverage surrounding each big-name player’s latest contract, Tillman displayed loyalty at all turns. Not once, but twice, the former Sun Devil great turned down multi-year and multi-million dollar contracts to remain with the Cardinals.
After all, Tillman made a comfortable home at Sun Devil Stadium through his years patrolling the secondary in maroon and gold and in cardinal and white.
In proper form, each game at Sun Devil Stadium, the valley’s beloved Devils race out of Tillman Tunnel with a black patch on their collar, simply stitched: “PT-42”.
Instead, other universities choose to honor their prodigal sons and legendary ballplayers with oversized statues, display cases and award recognition, perhaps bestowing the honor following public transgressions, slip-ups or even NCAA violations.
Tillman was a heroic and memorable face of the war on terror, a former NFL star who chose to fight for his country while leaving behind a $3.6 million deal, a sacrifice few of us could make.
As Sun Devils, we remember Tillman not just each year with an outdoor event. Throughout the entire calendar year, Pat Tillman is remembered by the Sun Devils.
Whether it be by walking or running the 4.2-mile event annually, taking in the spring practice that follows, searching for the next great maroon and gold outside linebacker or even spotting the 5-foot-11 freshman defender that plays with a heart of a lion, as well as the countless Tillman shirts at sporting events across the state. All of these instances are natural memories of an Arizona State legend.
However, the instances that we do not see will be the circumstances that build a legend.
Although Tillman’s NFL career was short-lived, standing at three years, both the Arizona Cardinals and Sun Devils retired Pat’s uniform numbers in recent years.
Both Tillman’s nature on the gridiron and in the community cemented his place in Arizona State history, and as maroon and gold supporters, Pat’s legacy lives on with each step, and each stride that we Sun Devils take.
Tillman was much more profound than a statue’s worth, a ceremony’s lure or an event’s attraction. Although the memory of one man is recognized with Pat’s Run, thousands turn out each year to walk hand-in-hand with thousands of others in a true honoring of a community’s hero.
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