Friday, April 23, 2004

Your 20 something years old and playing in the NFL. Your considered a very good player and it looks like your going to get a nice payday when your current contract runs out. Then one day, Sept 11,2001... The World Trade Towers are attacked by terrorists. Everything you believe in comes crashing down on you. You make up your mind right there and then you are going to serve your country and become an Army Ranger. You pass up a 3.6 million dollar offer to play another year for the Arizona Cardinals.

April 23, 2004...In memoriam of Pat Tillman, US Army Ranger killed in action in Afghanistan. You gave up so much for all of us! As the statement form the White House put it, "you are an inspiration both on an off the football field." God Bless you.

Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis said he felt both overwhelming sorrow and tremendous pride in Tillman, who "represented all that was good in sports."

"Pat knew his purpose in life," McGinnis said. "He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling."

He made the decision after returning from his honeymoon with his wife, Marie. Several of Tillman's friends also have said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks influenced his decision to enlist.

"He knew what was important to him, and he made his decision and stood by it," said quarterback Eli Manning, expected to be a top pick in Saturday's NFL draft.

Tillman's brother Kevin, a former minor league baseball prospect in the Cleveland Indians' organization, also joined the Rangers and served in the Middle East. They committed to three-year stints in the Army.

The Tillmans' goal to join the Rangers was not an easy one to achieve. Only 35 percent of all candidates get to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger Tab.

Some 110 U.S. soldiers have died -- 39 of them in combat -- during Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Tillman's agent, Frank Bauer, has called him a deep and clear thinker who has never valued material things.

In 2001, Tillman turned down a $9 million, five-year offer sheet from the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals, and by joining the Army he passed on millions more from the team.

Tillman turned aside interview requests after joining the Army. He had denied requests for media coverage of his enlistment, basic training and ultimate deployment. According to Army officials at the time, Tillman wanted no special treatment, wanted no special attention, but wanted to be considered just one of the soldiers doing his duty for his country.

In December, during a trip home, Tillman made a surprise visit to his Cardinal teammates.

"For all the respect and love that all of us have for Pat Tillman and his brother and Marie, for what they did and the sacrifices they made ... believe me, if you have a chance to sit down and talk with them, that respect and that love and admiration increase tenfold," then-Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said at the time. "It was a really, really enriching evening."

Pat was first deployed to Iraq in March 2003, with the 75th Regiment Ranger Battalion. Following a brief break, he was posted in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been battling pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance since U.S.-led forces attacked the Central Asian nation in 2001

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Tillman was distinguished by his intelligence and appetite for rugged play. As an undersized linebacker at Arizona State, he was the Pac-10's defensive player of the year in 1997.

He set a franchise record with 224 tackles in 2000 and warmed up for last year's training camp by competing in a 70.2-mile triathlon in June.

Tillman carried a 3.84 grade point average through college and graduated with high honors in 3½ academic years with a degree in marketing.

"You don't find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him," Phil Snow, who coached Tillman as Arizona State's defensive coordinator, said in 2002. "This guy could go live in a foxhole for a year by himself with no food."

Tillman and his brother Kevin last year won the Arthur Ashe Courage award at the 11th annual ESPY Awards. Their younger brother, Richard, accepted the award while the brothers were away.

See the full story here.