It has been 11 years since Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Since that day in April of 2004, Tillman’s spirit has lived on within the Arizona State football program.
Tonight, the memory of the former ASU All-American linebacker will be stronger than ever as the Sun Devils take on the Oregon Ducks at Sun Devil Stadium. The Devils will be wearing a special-edition uniform that honors Tillman for his contributions to ASU football and his military commitment.
After a college career (1994-97) during which he helped the 1996 ASU team to an undefeated season and a trip to the Rose Bowl, he was selected in the 1998 NFL draft and played three years with the Arizona Cardinals before turning down a $3.6 million contract renewal to enlist in the U.S. Army. He joined the elite Army Rangers and, after his death, was posthumously honored with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his heroism under fire.
In 2010, Tillman was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The Pac-12 Conference re-named its top defensive honor the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. An annual race that draws a huge field of runners from across the country was started in his honor and is called simply Pat’s Run. A scholarship program was set up in his name at ASU. And the football players run through the Pat Tillman tunnel before exiting onto the field at home games.
His name is synonymous with Arizona State football and the Arizona Cardinals, who honored him with the Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza at University of Phoenix Stadium where the team plays.
So tonight’s honor isn’t as grand as many of the others created in his name. But it will definitely be noticed.
ASU players will be decked out tonight in alternate uniforms that have been designed to replicate those worn by the 1996 team for their Rose Bowl appearance, and also pay tribute to his military service. Designers re-created the type font that was used for the “Arizona State” moniker on the chest, added period-specific logos on the helmet, and put a “PT-42” (Tillman’s uni number) on the collar.
The uniforms help kick off ASU’s tribute to the military called “Salute to Service” and were created with input from Marie Tillman and the Tillman Foundation, which was formed shortly after his death to honor the local hero’s leadership and service.
To top off the tribute, the ASU athletic department worked with adidas, which created the uniforms, to get an agreement from the NCAA to be able to put Tillman’s name on the back of every player’s jersey. A photo-realistic image of Tillman leading the players onto the field – the same one that’s on display in Tillman Tunnel – is featured on the front.
This is perhaps a fitting game to roll out the military symbolism. It will be a battle between two high-powered offenses with matching 4-3 overtall records, 2-2 in conference play – which means both will be fighting to keep from dropping to .500.
Both are coming off a bye-week, so they should be well-prepared for battle.
ASU hasn’t been able to get past Oregon since their last victory in 2004, so the Ducks have won eight straight. They have had to deal with a lot of injuries this season, which has them in unfamiliar won-loss territory, but they will still come into tonight’s game with the Pac-12’s top rushing offense (297.4 yards per game) and the conference’s leading runner in Royce Freeman.
But the image of a revered Army Ranger leading them into battle may be just what the Sun Devils need to get over that 11-year-old psychological hump.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)