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Monday, May 2, 2016

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, May 6, 2004

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Pat Tillman was born in November of 1976. Shortly thereafter, they broke the mold.

He was a bright, athletic kid who grew up in San Jose, Calif., and enrolled at Arizona State University in 1994. As a free spirit with shoulder-length hair, he would often meditate while sitting on top of a light tower.

Bruce Snyder, the ASU football coach, liked Tillman's determination, but told him he would be held out (red-shirted) as a freshman. Tillman replied, "I'm graduating in four years and then I'm out of here, so I might as well play." Snyder relented and gave Tillman the last scholarship available that year. Ever the perfectionist, Tillman openly questioned his football coaches by circling perceived mistakes in the playbook.

Although he was only 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds, Tillman became a starting outside linebacker for the ASU Sun Devils. He played the game with intelligence and reckless abandon, and excelled in the classroom. Some of his college highlights include:

* ASU most valuable player, 1997

* Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, 1997

* Second-team All-American, 1997

* Academic All-American, 1996 & 1997

* Had a 3.84 overall grade point average

* Graduated in 3 and 1/2 years with a degree in marketing

After college, in the spring of 1998, Tillman was chosen in the seventh (last) round of the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Considered too small for linebacker and too slow to play safety in the pros, he was a local favorite who had little chance of making the team. But he not only made the team, he was so tenacious he became the starting strong safety in his rookie season. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles.

Off the playing field, Tillman walked to the beat of a different drummer. While his pro teammates were wearing fancy clothes and driving fancy cars, Tillman rode a bicycle to and from practice. In fact, he didn't even own a car and had never used a cell phone. He shunned publicity, with no inclination to flaunt himself by performing flagrant displays of on-field celebrations or giving media interviews.

In 2001, Tillman was offered a 5-year, $9 million contract to sign with the St. Louis Rams. Citing his loyalty to the Cardinals, he signed a 1-year deal with Arizona for $512,000. At the end of the 2001 season, at age 27, he was offered a 3-year contract worth $3.6 million but turned it down. He had something more important to do.

Tillman was deeply affected by the events of Sep. 11, 2001. After returning from his honeymoon, he and his brother, Kevin, enlisted in the U.S. Army and volunteered for Army Ranger duty. Both were deployed overseas in 2003 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in Afghanistan in late 2001.

On April 22, 2004, members of the 75th Ranger Regiment were on patrol in southeastern Afghanistan where they were ambushed by Al Qaeda fighters. Specialist Pat Tillman was killed during this action.

We live in an imperfect world, ruled by imperfect beings, some of whom have evil intentions. War is an ugly business, but sometimes it's necessary in order to make the world a better place.

Pat Tillman was determined to make the world a better place. For that he paid the ultimate price.

The National Football League has dedicated the upcoming 2004 season to his memory. The best way for the rest of us to honor him is to make certain he, and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice, didn't die in vain.

Tillman followed his own path and lived a full life. Somewhere in another dimension, he's sitting on top of a tower, meditating, and circling perceived mistakes in his new playbook.