I never figured that my first article for the Sharks would be this one. Actually, I kind of figured it would be something on the merits of IDP’s or the attributes of our Hafax team. Certainly not a story of Pat Tillman’s ultimate sacrifice which has been in the news the last few days. A lot has been written about him since his death. My intention is not to needlessly reiterate what has already been said, but to share some of my own thoughts and reflections about a person I have great respect for. The football world and the entire country mourn his passing. We lost a good man.
For those of you, who haven’t heard his story, let me try to give a brief rundown. A favorite son and a defensive standout at Arizona State, he left college a linebacker and entered the NFL as a seventh round pick by the Arizona Cardinals who were hoping to convert him to the safety position. His first year, 1998 saw a lot of special team’s play, but he started at free safety. In his second year he was moved to strong safety and in 2000 he responded by setting a Cardinal’s team record for tackles. He turned down a substantial contract offer from the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals. In 2002 he turned down a multi-million dollar contract by the Cardinals to join the Army Rangers. After having already served a tour of duty in Iraq, he finally met his untimely fate April 23, 2004 during a firefight with Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. He was only 27.
Now, I don’t have a real personal connection with Pat Tillman, most of my familiarity with him is fantasy football related; it stems from having him on my dynasty roster his last couple of years playing. I can honestly say he brought me a championship (or at least played a huge role) in the 2000 season. My defensive back woes were legendary in my fantasy league, and finally I had a young stud that I could depend on every week. I found myself constantly following his progress. He was an awesome player for me during that time, and his passion and intensity on the field were incredible. I wish that I had been able to actually see more games in which he played (The Cardinals don’t generally get a lot of air time especially here in New England were I’m from).
And then he left. Spurred on by the tragedy of 9-11, he announced that he was going to join the Army Rangers and he walked away from football. My first reaction was one of self-pity – suddenly, there was a huge hole to fill at DB for my team. I had finally found someone I could depend on for my DB slot and now I had to go in search of a replacement. How could he leave me hanging like that? But I also remember, after having some time to actually soak it in, how admirable and courageous a move that was for him. That took guts. He walked away during the prime of his football career. People just don’t do that. I don’t think that I could do it. I faintly recollect the stories I used to hear as a kid about Ted Williams and his time spent in the service. Probably not a fair comparison, but it’s along the same wavelength. He had a deeper calling – one that was more important to him than the game of football.
You know, until the news came in the other day about his tragic death, I always figured he’d come back, play again, and be successful, and I have no doubt that if anyone could return to a football career like that, he certainly would have been a person to do it. That’s probably why it stunned me a bit. This doesn’t happen to a well-known athlete like Pat Tillman. But it did. I’ve been watching and reading some of the news articles that have been running the past week. It’s incredible some of the things this guy did. He turned down some serious money – not once but a couple of times, he left a promising career and he put himself right out in the frontlines of the battlefield. And, whether or not you agree with politics surrounding the war on terror, you’ve got to admire what Pat Tillman stood for – loyalty, character, passion, humility, dedication, just to name a few. This was a guy who walked his talk. He was a true American. He was a true Hero. Thank you, Mr. Tillman.