Tillman's Peanut Punch for the ages

When Chicago Bears cornerback and civic hero Charles "Peanut" Tillman left Sunday night's game with what would later be determined as a ruptured right triceps muscle, teammates approached him in appreciation and homage.

A screenshot showed him apparently tearing up; it went viral. Bears fans love Tillman, and he would later go on Twitter and thank the fans for their virtual well-wishes. A Peanut without his shell.

As the game went on, I took some binoculars and watched Tillman move around the sidelines by himself. Sitting down, standing up, walking around. Nervous energy with no outlet. He was no longer vital to the team. He was injured and therefore a bystander. The game continues.

While Tillman faded into the sideline, rookie Kyle Fuller, drafted to be his replacement as the playmaking franchise corner, picked off two fourth-quarter passes in San Francisco 49ers territory that turned into touchdowns as the Bears shocked the NFL, and certainly Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, with a 28-20 comeback victory.

It was Fuller's moment, and not a small amount of people made "passing the torch" comments in the press box.

After the game, Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler raved about Fuller. He is the future.

"I told him that he needs to have Hall of Fame on his mind," Marshall said. "There is no fear. He has a great skill set. But his attitude is amazing. You'd think he's been in the league for five or six years."

No Bears eulogized Tillman, at least in my presence, after the game, because no one knew the diagnosis or the severity. If they did, they weren't telling us. The win was on their minds, not their loss.

Because of the real-world effects of the cartoonish violence we used to savor, and now pretend to hate, football is the ultimate "next man up" sport. Football players are conditioned to move on.

When the news was announced Monday, Tillman released a statement that read, in part, "I know this feeling way too well, but this isn't the end of the road for me. As I rehab my injury, my role will transition into helping coaching and support my teammates."

A torn triceps muscle in the same arm ended last season early for Tillman. Presumably, his Bears career is over. Tillman is 33 years old and he has played in 12 seasons. That's a career. He has nothing left to prove to us, though few players are ready for the end, so I'd understand his desire to keep playing.

This is where I tell you it's a shame, because a player of Tillman's caliber shouldn't "go out like that" and we commiserate and remember his Bears career. He was popular with fans and well regarded within his industry for being a good guy and a great player. Opponents talked about him with respect, and you can bet coaches harped on protecting the ball before playing the Bears.

I don't have much know-how in this regard, but he should be an excellent candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tillman, more than any other Bear, epitomized the style of defense that came to define the past decade of Bears football, when it was good, at least.

While Brian Urlacher, the snarling linebacker with the defensive back's sense of space, was the face of the defense, Tillman was the guy who perfected the art of the takeaway -- not turnover, takeaway -- with the well-timed punch of the ball, the Peanut Punch.

The defense under former Bears coach Lovie Smith would give foes yards, but it would create opportunities for the offense with takeaways. Not luck, it's skill. The Bears practiced this art, and they were proud of it. Peanut was the best at it.

Tillman forced 42 fumbles in his 156 regular-season games and scored after one recovery. He had 36 interceptions, eight of which he returned for touchdowns.

In 2012, his last full season, Tillman forced 10 fumbles, four more than any other in his career.

Smith always corrected reporters who called them turnovers. That implies a bit of luck and reliance on the mistakes of others. Takeaways assert the ability of a defense to assert its will. Professionals get takeaways. Tillman was a pro, and he caused takeaways.

Lovie's defense exists only in memory as a wistful counterpoint to the unsure reality on the ground. The Bears' defense could certainly be mediocre -- highly mediocre, perhaps -- but no one will be talking about the halcyon days of today's Mel Tucker defense in 10 years.

But Lovie's defense, and the practitioners of it, will be remembered with more fondness as the years go by. One thing that's certain in Chicago, the defense was always better in another era. That's how collective memory works.

Tillman should go into coaching when his playing career is over. Maybe run a skills camp for ball-hawking high school football players. Write a book. This is a skill he should share with the world.

Given his general distaste for the media, he will probably go into the lucrative business of talking football for money. It's the athlete's greatest revenge, doing the reporter's job for more money and more fame.

Tillman, who can be very quotable when he's in the mood, enjoys needling reporters who travel in a pack for not having their own takes or their own questions. In his most recent media address, after the Buffalo Bills debacle two Sunday ago, he chastised us for ripping safety Chris Conte. A good teammate willing to speak up against perceived injustice. Tillman was rarely criticized.

When he talked after games, I found myself transfixed by his glowing red-orange eyes, the effects of special contact lenses he wears for games. It gives him a supernatural appearance.

Football players rarely get to retire on their terms alone. The game's too violent.

We already knew Tillman was on his way out, likely after this season. He was re-signed for one more year this past offseason and everyone agreed it was a good move by both sides, especially considering the animosity with which Urlacher left the Bears. There was no drama.

Tillman nearly had a takeaway against the Niners, but what looked like an interception with a nice return was negated by review.

Bears fans wanted more interceptions, more punches to the ball, but Tillman gave all he could in his 12 years, and that's the only takeaway I can give you at the end of his career.

He was a master of his craft. That's just about the best thing you can say about anyone.