Charles "Peanut" Tillman reflects on his childhood, fatherhood and his illustrious football career in a letter to his younger self for the Players' Tribune.
The former Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers cornerback reminisces on what he experienced growing up with a father who was in the Army. He said he moved 12 times in 13 years as a child and attended schools in Kansas, Ohio and Weierhof, Germany -- during third grade alone.
Tillman expressed how moving to Germany was the most challenging point of his childhood. He had to deal with language barriers and kids from different cultures.
"In Germany, you lived on an Army post where everything was American. Your neighbors were American and everybody spoke English and used the U.S. dollar.
"But off post was another story. The stores and gas stations only accepted these multicolored bills called deutsche marks. When you'd go out to eat at a restaurant with your family, you'd always order the chicken because the menu was in German and you couldn't read it, and chicken was the only thing that looked familiar. Very few people spoke any English, especially the kids. You were like cavemen trying to communicate with each other.
"So you communicated through sports."
Tillman said he helped teach some of the German children how to play American football while they taught him a thing or two about soccer. That's when he started to embrace the culture -- and even began ordering things other than chicken when going out to eat.
He was drafted by the Bears in 2003. Since he was born in Chicago, he described it as like a dream come true.
"You're going home, Charles. You've moved around your whole life, but it all started on the South Side of Chicago, where you were born. And when the second round of the draft comes around, the team that will call your name will be the one that you saw on TV when you first discovered the game of football.
"The Chicago Bears."
Tillman spent 12 of his 13 seasons in Chicago, earned two trips to the Pro Bowl (2011, 2012) and won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2013. That honors a player's volunteer and charity work as well as his on-field excellence.
In his third season, 2005, Tillman got married and had his first child. He elaborates on how difficult it was to balance being a great husband, father and football player. He said he went through a stretch during which he gave up touchdown passes more often and began to doubt himself.
That's when he purchased a book entitled "The Strangest Secret," by Earl Nightingale. It focuses on mental toughness. Tillman said the book helped him get back on track.
The next season, Tillman made his first trip to the Super Bowl, where the Bears faced Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. He emphasized how Marvin Harrison was the most difficult wide receiver to cover during his NFL career.
"Seriously, this guy will make you look stupid. When you're riding a high and playing well and you're feeling yourself, there will be nothing like playing Marvin Harrison to bring you back down to earth and make you realize that you still have a lot of work to do."
He also wrote about former Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson, whom he said will "give you fits, but he'll also make you a better player. So get to know him."
In the most heartfelt portion of the piece, Tillman described the "most difficult thing you will ever experience." His second child, who was 3 months old at the time, suffered from a dangerously high heart rate and was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy.
It would force the child, Tiana, to receive a heart transplant. He illustrates what it was like spending nights in the hospital.
"The hospital will become a second home for you. You'll learn all the doctors' and the nurses' names. You'll get to know the people who work in the cafeteria."
He alternated hospital nights with his wife, Jackie, for four long months before receiving a call from the doctor saying, "We got a heart." Tiana received the transplant that she needed to survive and is 8 years old today. "She's our little miracle," he wrote.
In the final chapter of his NFL career, before retiring, Tillman signed with the Panthers. He was part of the 2015 team that finished the regular season 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl to face (who else?) Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Tillman couldn't play due to a torn ACL. He'd played with a partially torn ACL from Week 10 to Week 17 and tore it completely in the regular-season finale. But he doesn't regret the decision to play through the pain one bit.
He said his one regret is missing out on the opportunity to be the first player in NFL history to join the 40-40 club for having at least 40 forced fumbles and 40 interceptions. Instead, he finished with 44 forced fumbles and 38 picks.
-- Josiah Turner