Pat Tillman, the player who left the NFL in search of heroism

Pat Tillman is remembered by Arizona fans for serving the nation (Photo by: Gene Lower/Getty Images)

Patrick “Pat” Tillman is remembered for being part of two of the most respected communities in the United States: the NFL and the Armed Forces. Although if Tillman had not had a fleeting step on the grid, the world probably would not even know who he is today and he would be one more casualty of the US military, just like thousands of others. His quest for heroism caused him to cut short a promising career in American football and he only found death at the age of 27.

Tillman was one of many instances where patriotism drew him to a place less safe than the field of play; in one scenario he was running to stop his rivals, in the other he had to run to save his own life. Pat began his short sports career at Arizona State University, where he served as a linebacker. Despite his short height for his position (1.80), Tillman’s qualities quickly began to attract attention, although for many others, he was an undersized player, a sign that his continuity could not make the leap to professionalism.

Pat Tillman during his stay at Arizona State University (Photo by: JD Cuban / Allsport)

Pat Tillman during his stay at Arizona State University (Photo by: JD Cuban / Allsport)

Tillman was aware that his work would be the only one that could make him compete among the most outstanding. Bill Belichickthe head coach of the Patriots and who was able to meet Pat at some tryouts, he described him as extremely intelligent and having the basic qualities his position required. With all this, Patrick managed to settle for the NFL Draft in 1998.

In the same generation that Payton Mannig was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, Tillman had to wait for 225 players to be drafted before him and it wasn’t until the seventh round that the Arizona Cardinals drafted him. He was an unusual rookie. He came to his training on a bicycle and carried books under his arm. But once equipped, he became a watch out guy. Tillman’s mindset was what the Cardinals coaches needed to inject into the rest of the team.

With intelligence and quickness as his best attributes, Pat immediately landed a spot on the Arizona starting roster. Already in his first season in the NFL, Tillman and the Cardinals signed one of their best seasons entering the Playoffs. He was the fan favorite. But the rookie’s mind was also turned to other aspects, as he declared himself with a patriotic bone and was carried away by the emotion of the pregame ceremonies.

In the 2000 season, Pat had the best of his seasons with 144 tackles, of which 107 were solo and 37 assists; 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception. The panorama looked favorable for the Californian and the contracts of millions were on his table. But things changed after the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. With his previously pronounced patriotic identity, Patrick decided to enlist in 2002 with the United States Army, with the task of ending the terrorism that settled in the Middle East. According to various media reports, the former player dropped the Cardinals’ $3.6 million-a-year offer before heading off to war.

Both Patrick and his brother Kevin, who was also starting a career with the Cleveland Indians of the MLBwere named ‘Army Rangers’. At that time, Pat was part of the initial invasion into Iraq and was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He would later move to Afghanistan where he served various combat missions. Nevertheless, On April 22, 2004, fire from a colleague reached Tillman, causing his immediate death during an ambush when he was mistaken for a Taliban. Like something common in the United States, the story of his death has been modified with the simple fact of wanting to represent a war hero, more so because it is not just any soldier, but a former player of the same NFL.

“The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the pain that comes with all loss and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf.” George W. Bush during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on May 1, 2004.

The Pat Tillman Foundation honors individuals who have been injured during military service (Photo by: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Pat Tillman Foundation honors individuals who have been injured during military service (Photo by: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Armed Forces decorated Tillman with the silver starone of the highest combat awards the United States bestows, in addition to the purple heart. The NFL was not far behind, the story of the Cardinals safety is remembered every time it can. The University of Arizona retired his jersey and his friends and family created the Tillman Foundationwhich is dedicated to bringing together outstanding members of the military service.


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