The phone rang early in the morning on April 22, 2004.
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill remembers the exact place in his house he was standing when the news traveled through his phone: One of the Tillman brothers had been killed in Afghanistan.
“My heart sunk,” Bidwill said. “It was like a kick to the gut.”
There are only a few days in our lives that we can remember as vividly. For America, one was Sept. 11, 2001.
For those who knew Pat Tillman, April 22, 2004 was another.
Jeremy Staat’s NFL career was over by 2004 but he was trying his hand in the Arena Football League with the Los Angeles Avengers. About 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 22nd, he was walking out of the training room at West Los Angeles Community College after being treated for a torn MCL when he picked up his cell phone and saw 13 missed calls.
“I’m like, ‘Who in the hell is trying to call me at 6:30 in the morning?’” Staat said. “It was from the guys we played with at ASU.
“I’m like, ‘Why are they calling me? What the hell? Did I do something great?’”
Then his phone rang again. It was Staat’s mother. She was crying hysterically. Her next words are seared in Staat’s memory: “He’s dead,” she said between tears. Staat was confused. “Patty," she said. "He’s gone. He’s dead.”
“I said, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’” Staat remembered, his voice speeding up, “Pat’s not dead.”
Tillman was in fact dead, killed in a friendly-fire accident on a mountain range in Afghanistan. Staat lost it at first but tried to practice through it, using football as an outlet to occupy his mind while his emotions stewed.
Football could only mask Staat’s feelings for so long.
“Finally, about halfway through practice I just took my helmet and shoulder pads off and threw them and packed up my locker and said I’m out of here and took off,” Staat said. “Then I just kinda started dealing with that.”
He tried to play the following week but decided that was it. Staat was done with football.
For Doug Tammaro, Arizona State’s assistant sports information director, he couldn’t just walk away from work.
He and Tillman had become closer in the six months leading up to Tillman’s death. On the night of April 21, 2004, he heard from a local reporter that Tillman may had been killed. Ten years ago, information wasn’t as readily available on the internet as it is now, so Tammaro was went to sleep with his thoughts, waiting for the news to be confirmed or denied.
The next morning, no later than 8 a.m., he was feeding his then eight-month-old daughter when former Arizona State athletic trainer Perry Edinger called with the news. It was true. Tillman was dead.
Tammaro had to go to work, but he couldn’t have ever prepared for what awaited him that day.
“I just remember you’re trying to get people to talk about him and everybody was afraid to talk about him because what would the family think or what would this person think?” Tammaro recalled. “And what do you say?”
It was the one day in his career where Tammaro felt compelled to be the one talking instead of coaches or players.
“We needed the right things to be said,” he said. “His legacy was starting that day.
“That was the worst day I’ve ever had on the job and hopefully it’ll never be topped.”