Former Arizona Cardinals' safety, Corporal Patrick Daniel Tillman died nine years ago today, while serving a tour in Afghanistan. Initial reports said that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, but later it was ruled as "friendly fire".
Tillman began his college career at Arizona State University as a linebacker in 1994. In spite of being small for his position (5-foot-11), Tillman surpassed the expectations everyone had of him. In his junior year, not only did he help his team go undefeated and lead them to the Rose Bowl, he was voted PAC-10 defensive player of the year. During his college years, he received many awards and eventually was inducted into the College Football Hall Of Fame in 2010.
In 1998, Tillman was selected as the 226th pick in the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman started 10 of the 16 games in his rookie season as a safety, not as a linebacker. Out of pure loyalty to the Cardinals, Tillman turned down a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams. The four year All-Pro, finished his career with 92 tackles, three interceptions, two and a half sacks and one forced fumble (courtesy of NFL.com).
At the end of the 2002 season, Tillman was making not much over the league minimum. Again, he turned down a three year, $3.6 million contract, but this time it was with his loyal team. After putting in all that hard work, why would he turn down a big contract that he rightfully deserved? It was eight months after the attacks on September 11th that he put a halt to his NFL career, to enlist in The United States Army.
Tillman enlisted with his brother Kevin, on May 31st, 2002. Tillman's brother had already signed with the Cleveland Indians, but also gave up a life in major league sports. After being redeployed to Afghanistan, on April 22nd, 2004, initially had been reported to be killed by enemy combatants. The initial claim was that Tillman and his unit were the victims of an ambush on a road outside the village of Sperah. It was found out that after his burial, the U.S. Department Of Defense and U.S. Congress launched that his death was ruled as fratricide (friendly fire).
Following Tillman's death, the linebackers at Ohio State, which consisted of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Schlegal as well as center Nick Mangold, grew their hair out in tribute of Tillman.
The Arizona Cardinals retired his number 40 and Arizona State did the same for the number 42 that he wore in college. The Cardinals also named the plaza surrounding the University of Phoenix Stadium after Tillman. ASU made a "PT-42" patch on the neck of their uniforms as a permanent feature as well as renaming the entryway to their stadium the "Pat Tillman Memorial Tunnel".
On April 15th, 2006, the first annual "Pat's Run" was hosted and over 10,000 people participated. The event was a 4.2 miles long course and ended on the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium. Since then, Pat's run continues to grow every year, with more than 35,000 participants around the country.
Tillman was living the life that many of us can only dream about. It's selfless people like him that are willing to give up that dream, to fight for our freedom everyday. We all get wrapped up with everything in our lives, but we need to remember that there are still men and women fighting every single day for our freedom, never forget that.
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