Pat Tillman has just been selected to join the College Football Hall of Fame. If he were still with us, he would probably downplay the honor.
His ego just didn’t need it.
The former ASU standout would likely brush it off the same way he brushed off the $3.6 million offer from the Arizona Cardinals to continue playing in the NFL. Instead, he and his brother, Kevin, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Kevin gave up a career in professional baseball to make the commitment of service with his brother.
That was after the 2001 NFL season ended, and the 9/11 attack on our country was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Pat had put in four seasons in the NFL, but felt a greater duty to his country than to professional football, and his decision was pretty black-and-white in his mind. He wanted to become a Ranger.
Friendly fire ended his military service, and his life, in Afghanistan in April of 2004. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star posthumously.
Tillman was selected from among 77 All-America players, culled from the past 50 years. The Hall’s Class of 2010 was announced by the National Football Foundation at the NASDAQ Marketsite in the heart of Times Square.
It’s likely Tillman wouldn’t have been impressed with that, either.
But his football career warranted this kind of recognition. He played at Arizona State from 1994-97, fortunate to grab the last remaining scholarship available in the football program. As a junior, he started every game at linebacker for a Sun Devil squad that went undefeated in the regular season, won the Pac-10 title, and appeared in the 1996 Rose Bowl.
In his senior season, he was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and was the MVP of the Sun Bowl. The Pac-10 has since honored him by renaming the defensive award to the Pat Tillman Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
His uniform number, 42, was retired – just the fifth player’s number to be retired in the school’s history.
He was selected by the Cardinals as the 226th pick in the 1998 draft. In his short-lived career with the Cardinals, he was switched to playing safety and started in 10 of 16 games his rookie season.
But the Hall of Fame induction is just one of many honors that carry his name forward, years after his untimely death.
In 2004, the Pat Tillman Scholarship Award was established, awarded annually to a student in the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU who is studying marketing. Tillman was a marketing major while attending ASU and graduated in 3 1/2 years with a 3.84 GPA.
That same year, family and friends set up the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides resources and educational support to veterans, active service members, and their dependents.
The list of accolades is seemingly endless… the Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza at the University of Phoenix Stadium where the Cardinals play, the Pat Tillman Memorial Tunnel that enters Sun Devils Stadium, a bridge at Hoover Dam that will bear Tillman’s name, another Pat Tillman scholarship at Lincoln Law School of San Jose, the Pat Tillman USO Center in Afghanistan, several books written about him, the football field at Tillman’s high school in San Jose was named in his honor, etc., etc., etc.
Pat would probably have grooved on that last one.
But perhaps the most recognizable ongoing tribute to Tillman is Pat’s Run, an annual race created by the Pat Tillman Foundation that has grown from around 6,000 runners in 2005 to more than 27,000 participants this year.
In recognition of his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame, the Sun Devils are also planning a posthumous honor during one of the football games this fall.
Pat probably wouldn’t have been too worked up about that, either.
That just wasn’t his style.