Pat Tillman always wanted to be a linebacker with the Cardinals as he grew up in San Jose, but at 5'11 he was considered to be too small to be a linebacker in the National Football League. The Cardinals, taking note of his obvious talent offered him the position of a "safety" which Tillman went on to excel in.
Pat turned down a five-year; $9 million offer to sign with the St Louis Rams in 2001, citing his loyalty to the Cardinals. He accepted only a one-year deal worth $512,000. The following season, he was offered a three-year contract worth $3.6 million, but enlisted in the U.S. Army instead. On completion of his training, he was deployed with the 75th Ranger Regiment in the heart of Afghanistan in the search of Al Qaeda terrorists. The Rangers are considered to be specialists in search and destroy operations conducted on enemy turf. It was during Operation Mountain Storm that Sgt. Pat Tillman, aged 27, was killed when his patrol was ambushed by small-arms fire and mortars. During later investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, it was found that his death was due to friendly fire between combatants mistaken for enemy fire.
The Cardinals set up a memorial outside their headquarters in Tempe, Ariz., with Sgt. Tillman's No. 40 uniform in a glass frame with two teddy bears and two bouquets. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered flags at Arizona State University to fly at half-staff.
The story of Sgt. Pat Tillman's career began when he was picked by the Cardinals as a safety in the seventh round of the 1998 draft, No. 226 of 241 players selected. He was awarded the last available sports scholarship. He was criticized for being too small to be a linebacker and too small to be a safety from the beginning of his career. Sgt. Tillman started as a rookie, lost the job, then earned it back. In 2000, he set a team record with 224 tackles. Sgt. Tillman just simply refused to fail.
He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Marketing and a 3.84 grade point average, and went on to play for four years with the Cardinals.
Pat had long, flowing hair and found inner peace by meditating while sitting on top of a light tower. He openly questioned his coaches regarding almost every aspect of the sport. Even after making it big as a professional, he was very comfortable riding his bicycle to practice. During off-season, Pat would compete in Marathons and has also completed a 70-mile triathlon in a bid to make-up for the lack of action. As a kid he badly beat up someone who assaulted his friend, which landed him in a juvenile detention center for a month that was the last time that Sgt. Tillman had any trouble with the law.
One of the major catalysts that seems to have prompted Tillman to enlist was the 9/11 attack. He even expressed his desire to do something more significant for his country on live television shortly after the 9/11 tragedy. Perhaps the most admirable aspect of Pat's decision was not the decision itself but the fact that no member of the Tillman family spoke to the media despite repeated requests and nationwide curiosity. He had made it crystal clear to close friends and family members that he intended to return to the NFL in 2005 once he completed three years in the armed forces.
Sgt Tillman's family still maintains that he made the right decision. His brother, Kevin, is also an Army Ranger serving in Afghanistan and also was a professional athlete having played minor league baseball for the Cleveland Indians' organization. Prior to Operation Mountain Storm, both the brothers had successfully completed missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In a society that considers material sacrifice the domain of losers, Sgt. Pat Tillman's selflessness will shine like a beacon for innumerable generations to follow.