TEMPE, Ariz. -- Pat Tillman overachieved in football, and
just about everything else.
Too slow to be a great safety, too small for an NFL linebacker,
he got by on toughness, effort and brains.
"Pat represents all that is good with this country, our society
and ultimately the human condition in general," said Seattle
Seahawks general manager Bob Ferguson, who was GM with the
Cardinals when Tillman was drafted.
"In today's world of instant gratification and selfishness,
here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honor,
passion, courage, strength and nobility. He is a modern-day hero."
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers said Saturday
that Tillman was killed in a firefight at about 7 p.m. on a road
near Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.
After coming under fire, Tillman's patrol got out of their
vehicles and gave chase, moving toward the spot of the ambush.
Beevers said the fighting was "sustained" and lasted 15-20
Beevers said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no
information about what type of weapons were involved in the
assault, or whether he died instantly.
An Afghan militiaman fighting alongside Tillman also was killed,
and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.
A local Afghan commander, Gen. Khial Bas, told The Associated
Press that nine enemy fighters were killed in the confrontation.
Bas said six other enemy fighters were believed to have escaped.
Beevers said he had no information about any enemy fighters killed.
The news of Tillman's death stunned those who knew him, and
those who cheered him on, first as a hard-hitting linebacker at
Arizona State, then as a safety with the Cardinals. A memorial was
set up outside the Cardinals' headquarters, with his No. 40 jersey
in a glass frame, and a giant poster with Tillman on one knee, in
uniform, on the Cardinals' sideline.
People brought flowers, teddy bears and balloons. One man in
uniform and kilt showed up to play "Amazing Grace" and "America
the Beautiful" on a bagpipe.
"A lot of times in football, analogies of war are thrown around
freely," former Cardinals teammate Pete Kendall said. "On a day
like this, you see how hollow those ring."
Denver quarterback Jake Plummer was a teammate of Tillman for
seven years, three at Arizona State and four with the Cardinals.
"We lost a unique individual that touched the lives of many
with his love for life, his toughness, his intellect," Plummer
said in a statement released by the Broncos. "Pat Tillman lived
life to the fullest and will be remembered forever in my heart and
The Cardinals said they will retire Tillman's No. 40 and name
the plaza surrounding the new stadium under construction in
suburban Glendale the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza."
Arizona State will retire Tillman's No. 42 jersey during a Nov.
13 game and place his name on the honor ring at Sun Devil Stadium.
The university and the Cardinals also are collaborating on a
scholarship fund in Tillman's name.
In college, Tillman was a long-haired wild man on the field, an
all-Pac-10 linebacker always going full-speed. Bone-jarring hits
were his trademark. He and Plummer led the Sun Devils to the 1996
Rose Bowl. A year later, Tillman was the Pac-10 defensive player of
He graduated summa cum laude in 3½ years. He earned a marketing
degree with a 3.84 grade-point average.
The Cardinals took Tillman in the seventh round of the 1998
draft, the 226th player chosen.
At first, he made his mark on special teams but played his way
to starting safety.
In 2000, he broke the franchise record for tackles with 224. He
had 12 solo tackles, and a hand in 21 overall, in a 16-15 victory
over Washington that season.
In practice, coaches often had to make Tillman slow down so he
wouldn't hurt anybody in drills that weren't supposed to be
full-speed. Slowing down was always tough for him.
Before the 2000 season, he ran a marathon to see what it would
be like. Before the 2001 season, he gave the triathlon a try.
In May of 2002 -- eight months after Sept. 11 -- Tillman walked
into the office of then-coach Dave McGinnis, pulled up a chair and
said "Mac, we have to talk."
Tillman and his brother, Kevin -- a baseball player in the
Cleveland organization -- were going to join the Army Rangers,
soldiers sent where the fighting is toughest.
"It was his wish that this not be something that would draw a
lot of attention," McGinnis said. "He truly felt committed and
felt a sense of honor and duty at this point in his life that this
is what he wanted to do."
Tillman never uttered a word publicly about his decision.
When he returned from his tour of duty in Iraq, Tillman, wife
Marie and brother Kevin joined the Cardinals for a game in Seattle
last December. They spent five hours in McGinnis' hotel room, just
talking the night before the game.
"He was just so proud to be a member of the Rangers," McGinnis
said. "That came through loud and clear."
Tillman attended the team's pregame breakfast, then watched the
game with Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill and his son, team vice
president Michael Bidwill. Tillman talked with his teammates in the
locker room after the game, then slipped out a side door before
reporters came in.
Tillman turned down a more lucrative offer from St. Louis in
2001 to stay with the Cardinals. A year later, he walked away from
a three-year, $3.6 million offer from Arizona to join the Army.
"He is a hero," Michael Bidwill said. "He was a brave man.
There are very few people who have the courage to do what he did,
the courage to walk away from a professional sports career and make
the ultimate sacrifice."
Phil Snow, now defensive coordinator at the University of
Washington, held the same position at Arizona State when the Sun
Devils recruited Tillman out of San Jose, Calif.
"Pat was a lot of things as a person," Snow said. "He was a
tough, good-looking guy. He was extremely competitive. You know
there is a saying with older people: `He was a man's man.' You
always knew where you stood with Pat. There was no phoniness in
Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered flags on the Arizona State campus
flown at half-staff.
"What other person do you know who would give up a life in the
NFL to defend what he believes in with his own life," said former
teammate David Barrett, now with the New York Jets. "That is a