Back in 2000, before I joined the Army, I was playing Madden 2001 on my brand new Playstation 2. Whenever I play Madden, I play franchise mode with the New York Giants. When I play defense, I like to stick with one player, and “be” that player for the season so I can develop his skills. Before the season starts and I begin my career, I make initial changes based on the needs of my team.
Back then, I really liked playing as a safety. The safety can be such a versatile player. If you played him close to the line, he served as a quasi-linebacker and could help stop the run, but you could still quickly drop back into coverage if it was a pass play. Playing a good safety can completely change the defense of a team.
In the summer of 2000, less then a year before I joined the Army, I remember poking around and looking for safeties when I came across Pat Tillman of the Arizona Cardinals, who were still in the NFC East. I didn’t know anything about Tillman, but when I saw his avatar, with the fierce eyes, long blonde hair, and thick neck, coupled with a decent overall score (74) and relatively young age (24), I knew I had to have him on my team. He was young, looked badass and there was room to develop him. I made some trades and I got Tillman on the New York Giants.
In the months before I joined the Army, Pat Tillman and I destroyed the NFC East and won numerous SuperBowls.
Years later, after I joined the Army and Pat joined the Army, one of my teammates would tell me stories about Pat at basic training. They were battle buddies. He had nothing but good things to say about him. He talked about how there was always media around, hovering, and Pat would do his best to stay away from it all and avoid the special recognition he was offered as an NFL player-turned-Army Ranger.
In April 2004, after returning from my first Iraq deployment, I was at an Army school when I learned of Pat’s death in Afghanistan – a wild, tragic ending to an incredible journey. It was a sleep-away school, so the news came in whispers and “have you heards.” Before a class started, an instructor confirmed the news. “Yeah, apparently Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan yesterday.” He then began the class.
Months later, the truth would emerge of fratricide, making the whole thing that much more tragic and wild.
Years later, I left the Army to go to school. Pat, this person I never met but have known since 2000, was still inside, lingering.
I learned of the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Tillman Military Scholarship sometime in 2009, when I was organizing the City College Veterans Association. The organization and scholarship was new to me, but I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of it and applied.
Fortunately, I was accepted (it was easier in 2009). Since then, I’ve tried my best to make it to Tempe for Pat’s Run every April and at the very minimum, participate in a Shadow Run. Without question, it is the military/veteran event I look forward to the most every year.
The Pat Tillman Foundation is still relatively young. Its founders and board members are very much connected to the man who was Pat Tillman, and as I was reminded this past weekend at Pat’s Run, he is still missed, and if it could be done, they’d trade it all to get Pat back. He was that fucking good.
That said, the product that is coming out of the Tillman Foundation – the Tillman Military Scholar – is phenomenal. An amazing group of service members, veterans, and spouses who are committed to a life of service, in the spirit of what they believe Pat would have wanted - an impossible thing to know but a source of limitless potential.
I wrote a small piece in the Daily Beast over the weekend that was kind of connected to Pat Tillman. It was a small attempt to link the event in Tempe and Pat to a bigger news story. The run in Tempe, for as big as it gets every year, is still a very local thing – local to Arizona, local to sports, local to veterans. It should be so much bigger. Pat is everything that is right, whether he actually was or not. He is the ideal of boundless ambition, an infinite resource of potential energy.
I don’t write about the things I do personally very often on this blog, but I am so proud to be a part of the Tillman Foundation that I felt like I should use this tiny corner I’ve carved out to say something – so there it is.
To learn more about the Pat Tillman Foundation, please visit their website.
Never Stop Honoring.