|Monday, July 8
Basic training starts for former NFL player
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Former NFL player Pat Tillman is used to pushing his body to the limit with grueling training in the summer heat. This summer, though, he will be sweating it out as an Army recruit.
Tillman, the 25-year-old starting safety for the Arizona Cardinals, turned down a $3.6 million contract for $18,000 a year and an uncertain quest to become an Army Ranger.
Tillman, who has rejected all interview requests to talk about his decision, began basic training Monday at this base in southwest Georgia, joining his younger brother, who enlisted with him.
"In Pat Tillman's view of the world, football is a part of it, but there are a lot of other things that are important to him," said Lyle Setencich, Tillman's linebacker coach at Arizona State.
Money doesn't seem to be important to him at all. Last year, he turned down a $9 million, five-year offer from the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams so he could stay with the perennial losing Cardinals for less money. This year, he turned down the Cardinals three-year, $3.6 million contract to join the Army.
"He said there were personal reasons he didn't want to divulge to me, and I didn't press him on it," Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. "I respect his decision. I think it's honorable."
Observers questioned his sanity, but that's nothing new for Tillman, who used to meditate atop a 200-foot light tower above Arizona State's stadium.
"If you don't know Pat, then you would think he's crazy," said Phil Snow, who coached Tillman as Arizona State's defensive coordinator. "The planes flew so close to him that he could damn near reach out and touch them. He's just fearless."
Tillman's decision to attempt to join the Army's elite infantry unit didn't surprise friends.
"Pat is the type of person who needs challenges," Arizona State University associate athletic director Mark Brand told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "When I heard what he was doing, I knew it was perfect."
Bored before the 2000 season, he ran a marathon. After setting a franchise record with 224 tackles in 2000, he prepared for last year's training camp by competing in a 70.2-mile triathlon.
"You don't find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him," Snow said. "This guy could go live in a foxhole for a year by himself with no food."
Tillman's age may have been a factor in his decision -- the cutoff for the Rangers is 28. Several of Tillman's friends believe the Sept. 11 attacks also had an influence. Setencich attended Tillman's wedding in May and talked with him about the NFL.
"He mentioned he might get out of it," Setencich said. "I asked him if he wanted to go to law school and he kind of smiled and said, 'There are a lot of things I can do.' "
Tillman's goal to join the Rangers will be difficult. Only 35 percent of all candidates get to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger Tab. Although physical fitness is key, Army training is very different from sports.
"Mental toughness separates those that drive on," said retired Ranger Capt. Todd Bearden.
"It's being able to get up at 0-dark-30 every morning, doing what needs to be done, then getting up and doing it again. When you take away somebody's sleep and somebody's food and push them to the limit, it changes the dynamics of everything."