On Super Bowl Sunday, remember Pat Tillman
There will be a celebration of an American hero in the minutes before Super Bowl XLIII, as there should be. US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger, along with the rest of his crew of Flight 1549, will be honored for the miraculous landing in the Hudson River that saved all 155 passengers and crew members.
But as we stop to salute the man we have come to know simply as "Sully" and the co-pilot and flight attendants, we also should remember another hero who won't be there, yet whose legacy is every bit as meaningful as the astonishing events of Jan. 15, when Sullenberger landed the Airbus in the frigid Hudson.
We all need to remember former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman.
Tillman, who left the Cardinals after the 2001 season to enlist in the Army Rangers, was killed April 22, 2004, on a mission in Afghanistan. He died in a friendly fire incident at age 27 after turning his back on a $3.6-million contract shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
-- Pat Tillman remembered
"I remember when Pat made that choice and everything that followed," Cardinals quarterbackKurt Warner said after I asked him about Tillman. Warner was with the Rams at the time.
"There's no question he is an inspiration for what he did, what he stood for and his attitude," Warner said. "It's a choice I appreciate and respect and it inspires me very much."
We all ought to appreciate it. Especially as his former team gets ready to play in its first Super Bowl. Tillman made a choice that no one else in his position would have made, forsaking the riches of sports to serve his country in the aftermath of the devastating attack on American soil.
Safety Adrian Wilson is the only current Cardinals starter to have played with Tillman.
"He felt he didn't do enough in his life to warrant the type of credit he was getting," Wilson said. "To make a life decision like that speaks volumes about his character."
Tillman's death was shrouded in controversy. The Army initially ruled he'd died in a firefight against the Taliban in the hills of Sperah, Afghanistan, less than a month after being deployed. The Army later admitted, after heavy pressure brought by Tillman's family, that he'd been shot in the forehead by a fellow soldier who mistook him for an enemy.
Wilson said he often thinks of Tillman, and certainly will do so Sunday night in the most meaningful game of his career.
"I think about his legacy a lot," Wilson said. "You never want his legacy to die."
Although the NFL won't formally honor Tillman on Sunday, the league has gone to great lengths to pay tribute. There was a special mention at the 2004 draft a few days after his death. The players wore Tillman's No. 40 on their uniforms the following season. The league donated $250,000 toward the construction of the Pat Tillman USO Center in Afghanistan, and helped raise money for the Patrick Tillman Foundation.
Tillman's family members were special guests of the NFL at last year's Giants- PatriotsSuper Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. And the family, including Tillman's widow, Marie, is expected here for Sunday's game. The Cardinals erected a statue of Tillman that stands in front of their stadium.
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said he thinks often of Tillman, especially at a time like this.
"I think two things," Bidwill said. "I think he's looking down right now, and he's really excited for us."
"I think he's really ticked off that he's not down here getting ready to play in the Super Bowl."
Yes, he would have loved it.
Tillman endured mostly miserable seasons with the Cardinals, who had losing records in three of his four years. But he was one of the most energetic players you'd ever want to see, and he clearly loved the game. Which makes it all the more astonishing that he'd leave the sport for what he considered a higher cause.
"He was living for a bigger purpose," Warner said, "and that went way beyond the game and way beyond money."
Wilson remembers Tillman showing him the ropes during his rookie season.
"Pat helped me learn the playbook, and helped me learn the ins and outs of the game, how to practice and learn a lot of things that I didn't know," Wilson said. "He eventually knew I was going to be the guy who took over his spot, and he didn't have any problems with that."
That's the kind of guy he was. That's the reason we ought to take a moment Sunday to honor his memory.
When those planes fly over Raymond James Stadium, and when Jennifer Hudson sings the national anthem, remember Pat Tillman.