Most people watching in Arizona will remember. Cardinals fans will remember. The Cardinals organization will remember. His friends will remember. His teammates will remember. Of course his family will remember.
And all of us who remember him will realize with a pang how much this Super Bowl would have meant to him.
If only he were here.
Tillman’s Presence Is Still Strong (New York Times)
TAMPA, Fla. — The most visible Cardinal has been dead nearly five years. Pat Tillman, the football player turned fallen soldier, is here, there and everywhere Arizona plays, the 2008 team embodying his selflessness and success against great odds.
Tillman first served first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, where he was killed in combat.
Until this season, Tillman was the lone blossom on Arizona’s blighted N.F.L. franchise, filling the Phoenix community’s collective heart with pride.
His No. 40 replica jersey — the top seller on the team Web site — hangs off the shoulders of grandmothers and bikers and businessmen who form a human ring of honor in the stands. Tillman is idolized by people who never saw him play. Journalists here are sizing him for a Super Bowl ring.
Soldiers will watch the Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII from a U.S.O. center in Afghanistan that bears Tillman’s name and was built with money donated by the N.F.L. in his memory.
“It’s great,” said the former quarterback Jake Plummer, who was Tillman’s college and Cardinals teammate and a close friend. “But in the grand scheme of things, it all kind of stinks because he’s not around.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, remember Pat Tillman (Newsday)
January 30, 2009
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 quarterback Kurt 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."
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