I’ve written the story before (and my vivid memories of hearing about Pat Tillman’s death, right before the draft in 2004, are chronicled right here). But with the annual Pat’s Run coming up again Saturday, it’s automatic for me to think once again of covering Tillman for the couple of seasons that I did and then his famous story of leaving the NFL for what he saw as a more important calling.
The events in Boston this week, regardless of what (adjective deleted) person did it, again seem to shine a spotlight on what Tillman and (hopefully) all of us believe — which is that we are lucky to live where we live and that as a country we band together in moments like this. I know the organizers of Pat’s Run are taking extra precautions given what happened in Boston’s race, but really, I haven’t thought twice about whether I will still run or not. Of course I will.
I’ve heard from some of late who want to point out that Tillman wasn’t the only soldier to lose his life sacrificing for this country. They are frustrated he is the one always talked about. There is no question there are many others who lost their lives doing the same. But this race is done for the Tillman Foundation, and Pat and his legacy are the reason it exists. It doesn’t take away from any other soldier that this race takes place or garners publicity. The money raised helps veterans. That’s a good cause.
(Speaking of good causes, if you want to take part in the Tillman Tweetup Friday night to raise money for a Tillman Foundation scholarship, tickets are still available for the chance to meet Bruce Arians, Steve Keim and players like Patrick Peterson and Sam Acho. Click here for all the details. I’ll be there too.)
In a week where the real world has invaded sports, it’s a fitting time to remember one of the best examples of the two worlds coming together.
Tags: Pat Tillman, Pat's Run
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After many years of saying he wanted to do it and never quite making it out to Tempe, Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King is finally taking part in Pat’s Run later this month. And with it comes a little something extra the night before.
(It’s all right within his column that also has King too thinking Carson Palmer-to-Arizona will happen, which makes sense to me in some way, shape or form.)
King will be hosting a super-sized Tweetup Friday night, April 19th, at Tom’s Tavern downtown. King has hosted a handful of Tweetups before (for the Twitter non-initiated, a Tweetup is a gathering set up with Twitter followers), most notably at the Scouting combine in Indianapolis the past few years. King wanted to do a Tweetup to somehow benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation if he was going to come out and run the race. The Cardinals are helping him do that.
King’s goal is to raise enough money to fund a Tillman Foundation scholarship. Tickets for the event are $40 — space is limited to 250 people — but it has an impressive lineup of Tweetup events:
– Food: Happy hour & carb-loading (pasta) stations
– Two drink tickets – redeemable for house wine & draft beer (other drink options available for purchase w proceeds benefiting Pat Tillman Foundation)
– Football discussion/Q&A moderated by King with Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, new GM Steve Keim and new head coach Bruce Arians
– Cardinals cheerleaders & Big Red to attend plus cameos from Cardinals players (Who exactly is still TBD)
– Auction items/raffles to benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation.
The Tweetup will be from 5-7 p.m. Got to get to bed early for the 7 a.m. race, right? (I’ll be running. Will you?)
Tickets go on sale this morning via phone (602) 379-0102 and at both Cardinals box office locations in Tempe and Glendale, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to the Pat Tillman Foundation. With phone orders through April 6th, tickets can be mailed out. After that, tickets must be picked up at a box office prior to 3 p.m. on April 19th.
If you want to follow Peter on Twitter, he’s at @SI_PeterKing. You can follow me at @cardschatter, and the team account is @AzCardinals. And if you want to take part in this Tweetup — whether you are on Twitter or not, if you are running in Pat’s Run or not, make the call.
Tags: Pat Tillman, Pat's Run, Peter King
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A couple of tidbits as I return from some time off:
The NFL’s draftees are in Canton this week for the annual rookie symposium, a plan last in place back in 2008. A brainchild of Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, who thought it was important young players understand the history of the league, the draftees get to see the Hall of Fame while attending seminars how to deal with life as a pro athlete. Below is a picture of some Cards’ rookies looking at a Hall display (that’s Nate Potter on the left, Michael Floyd on the right). There’s also a shot of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who grew up in a military family, checking out the Pat Tillman display. (A photo gallery is here.)
– In other news, longtime ESPN anchor Chris Berman, who has been the face of that network’s TV coverage, will finally get a chance to do a couple games of play-by-play in the NFL this season. The network trumpeted his placement on the second “Monday Night Football” game of opening weekend — Chargers at Raiders — with the annual doubleheader that night, working with Trent Dilfer. But Berman’s actual debut in the booth for play-by-play will be a couple weeks earlier, calling the Cardinals’ preseason game in Tennessee that will be televised nationally on ESPN.
“That’s great news,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Berman’s move to the booth. “I don’t know if there’s anyone who brings more enthusiasm and passion to his job than Chris Berman. For a lot of fans and people involved with the game, Chris is synonymous with the big time NFL events so this it’s exciting that he’s doing our preseason game against the Titans.”
Tags: ESPN, Hall of Fame, Ken Whisenhunt, Michael Floyd, Michael Irvin, Nate Potter, Pat Tillman
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On this Memorial Day, remember to honor those who have died serving our country — including former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. We owe them a great debt.
Tags: Pat Tillman
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My wife asked me last night, in the course of a conversation, if Pat Tillman and Larry Fitzgerald had ever been teammates. No, I told her. Tillman was killed the day before Fitz was drafted by the Cardinals.
Obviously draft time jars some Tillman memories. So too does the fact Pat’s Run — the annual 4.2-mile jaunt around and in Sun Devil Stadium, which sold out with an astounding 28,000 people this year — will be tomorrow. I’m taking part for the seventh straight year, part of a group of us from the Cards that includes coach Ken Whisenhunt.
I won’t go into my Tillman anecdotes yet again. If you want, you can read about them here, or read about how Pat joined the Army here, or watch his famous interview he gave the day after 9/11 here. Safe to say I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with him, and while he wasn’t perfect, he stood for a lot of honorable things. That’s why I’ll be running tomorrow, and that’s why, next Thursday night, I’ll be think back to that Friday morning in April, 2004, when I got the call at home that Tillman had lost his life.
Tags: Ken Whisenhunt, Pat Tillman, Pat's Run
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To follow up on the Cardinals’ roster moves from yesterday, the team filled its empty practice squad spot this morning by signing safety Mark LeGree to the practice squad. LeGree was a fifth-round pick of the Seahawks — coincidentally, the Cards’ opponent this week — before being cut at the end of training camp. LeGree played at Appalachian State (a friend who is also an alum likes to needle me by calling it the “real ASU”) and had 22 interceptions over four seasons and 53 games.
– In the meantime, while the Cards get back to the practice field later, here are a couple of Cards-related links. One comes from ESPN, after the network did a very nice video piece on their NFL Sunday Countdown show about the upbringing of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, which explains a lot about his personality. (Once, I wrote a similar story, when Darnell was a rookie. I forgot he originally wore the No. 61. Here is the story — sorry I couldn’t get it in one pdf — part one, part two, and part three).
– Dockett’s story is one of a kind, but so too is the tale of recently retired running back Jason Wright, who I already knew was kind of an amazing person but I didn’t know how much until I read this Sean Jensen Yahoo story. I wish Wright was still on the team — I am sure the Cards do too — but it’s hard to argue against seeing the bigger picture. It will never get the same kind of publicity as Pat Tillman — and certainly, Wright is not putting his life on the line like Pat did — but in some ways, Wright walking away is similar to the choice Tillman once made.
Tags: Darnell Dockett, Jason Wright, Mark LeGree, Pat Tillman
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
It is Fourth of July weekend, so – while I know everyone knows the Pat Tillman story – I thought I’d take a look back at a thin sliver of the Tillman timeline on this most patriotic of holidays: When Tillman shocked the world and joined the Army.
That offseason began like any other. The Cardinals were coming off a 7-9 season, with some hope going forward after Dave McGinnis’ first full season as head coach. The secondary was in flux though – cornerback Duane Starks was a top free-agent target, others were leaving and at strong safety, soon-to-be second-year man Adrian Wilson was being groomed for the starting role over Tillman.
That didn’t mean the Cards didn’t want Tillman, a free agent. They very much wanted him back, and put an offer (later learned to be three years and worth about $3.6 million) on the table. Yet Tillman didn’t sign it. He wasn’t at the mandatory minicamp right after the draft in early May, but no one (including me) thought much about it because Tillman was getting married. In hindsight, it did seem strange a guy like Tillman would plan a wedding the one weekend off the offseason he had to be with the team, but again, McGinnis didn’t blink an eye at what Tillman – a guy you wanted on your roster – chose to do. Besides, since he hadn’t yet signed a contract, it technically wasn’t mandatory for him anyway.
At one point, it felt like Tillman was hoping to generate free-agent interest but again, looking back that seems silly. Tillman was the last guy interested in developing leverage in a contract spot. Something was up, however. It was impossible not to get that sense, even though no one was saying anything – and at that point, I don’t think anyone really knew.
Your mind starts to race, however. I remember thinking, as a reporter, that maybe Tillman was ill. Maybe he couldn’t play football and everyone was trying to keep it under wraps, because why else would he have not signed a contract by that time?
On May 23, 2002, then-PR director Paul Jensen asked three media members – myself, Kent Somers and Mike Jurecki – to come meet with McGinnis about something. We went into a back room, and at that point, all kinds of things are going through your head.
McGinnis didn’t wait long. “Pat Tillman has decided to join the Army.” And he let it sit there in the air, and I was so shocked my jaw dropped open (I remember because McGinnis good-naturedly reminded me to close it). I thought it was a joke at first but it was most certainly not. With Tillman, it oddly fit. So too did the way the info was disseminated; Tillman had told McGinnis earlier and when McGinnis asked Tillman how he was going to tell the world, Tillman told him, “I’m not going to. You are.”
(The Cards knew for a while Tillman likely wouldn’t be back with them in 2002, even before the draft. They just didn’t know why.)
A few days later, I remember seeing Tillman stopped by the Cards’ offices. He was cordial but he wasn’t going to talk, on or off the record. That was the last time I saw him.
People tried to guess why he did what he did. They called him a hero before he had even made it into Army Rangers school, which of course, he eventually conquered – like all the things he conquered in his life. And afterward, it was hard not to remember the things he had said the day after the 9/11 attacks, including how much the American flag meant to him.
“In times like this, you realize how good we have it, what kind of system we live under, what kind of freedoms we’re allowed, and that wasn’t built overnight,” Tillman said. “The flag is a symbol of all that. … Many in my family have gone and fought in wars, and I haven’t done a damn thing.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Dave McGinnis, Duane Starks, Pat Tillman
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Our own Jim Omohundro will be putting together a series of web videos starting today that highlight the Cards’ 2011 schedule by looking back at a few of the highlights from games against that team in recent years past. For instance, Jim’s first piece is about the Cards and Panthers, who will visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sept. 11 to open the 2011 season (and yes, I am staying optimistic it happens). On the video are looking at three Panthers’ games of the past — wins in Carolina in 2001 and 2002 (Jake Plummer! Pat Tillman! Freddie Jones!) along with the game no one will forget, the playoff road trip against Carolina after the 2008 season. That game, of course, brings up one of the best quotes ever — Panthers coach John Fox about QB Jake Delhomme, after the Cards forced Delhomme into six turnovers. “He picked a bad day to have a bad day.”
Tags: Freddie Jones, Jake Delhomme, Jake Plummer, John Fox, Panthers, Pat Tillman, schedule
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The news came out today that coach Ken Whisenhunt will be one of four NFL coaches, present and past (Gary Kubiak and father and son Mora as well) heading to the Persian Gulf to visit U.S. military troops and help boost morale while they are over there serving our country. Obviously, many connect the Cardinals with the military because of Pat Tillman, but former safety/general manager Larry Wilson was one of the first players to take part in one of these USO tours (I’ve repeated posting Wilson’s Vietnam picture below, with the Rams’ Dick Bass in the middle with the beret and Dandy Don Meredith on the far right. Wilson is second from the left).
It’s different than back in Vietnam. Doing some research for this, I came across an article that quoted former Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, who apparently was in the service before going to the NFL and then went to Vietnam in 1968 for one of these trips. Russell was actually handed a machine gun and asked to ride shotgun because they didn’t have anyone else to spare. Russell even did a two-hour guard shift at the hotel, M-16 at the ready.
I am guessing Whisenhunt won’t have to deal with that, although he did say things have changed in the region — after the raid on bin Laden — since he said he’d take the trip. It was low-key for Larry Fitzgerald back in 2009 when he went too.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you stand on why soldiers are where they are in the world. It matters that they are willing to do a job many, frankly, aren’t. For what they do for us, it makes sense to send over celebrities — in this case, NFL coaches — to remind them their work isn’t forgotten.
Tags: Andy Russell, Don Meredith, Gary Kubiak, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Wilson, Pat Tillman
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
“And so it ends, not with a bang, but without a kicker.”
Whenever I think back to the infamous Bill Gramatica-blows-out-his-knee game, that’s the line I remember – the lead to the column of my co-worker at the time, Scott Bordow. The play itself – which came after Gramatica booted a 42-yard field goal and then celebrated in the first quarter in New York against the Giants – has become a punchline. It’s funny though, because I remember that game for so many reasons, and Gramatica was just one.
It was 2001, after all, and a Saturday game. The night before, just about three months after the 9/11 attacks, four of us – myself and Scott, and the Republic’s Pedro Gomez and Kent Somers – went to Ground Zero after a late dinner. It was jacket weather but remarkably warm for December, and I just remember the eerie glow of the artificial lights as workers (still going around the clock) cleared debris while a small part of one of the towers remained sticking in the air. Some windows on the surrounding buildings that stayed erect were still broken.
Then came the game the next day, when the 5-7 Cards were still breathing for a playoff spot and dominated the game – only to find themselves unable to score enough to win. That wasn’t helped by the early injury to Gramatica.
He wasn’t out for the game. That’s a false memory many have. He even somehow booted a 23-yard field goal after the injury. But he tried to kick off (pictured) and couldn’t, leading to another memory – Pat Tillman as emergency kickoff man (I tried to find video. Promise. Couldn’t.) and Tillman admitted he was “stoked” to get a chance to kick. (He wasn’t very good at it though. I’ll take Tim Hightower every time.)
The Cards got a miracle fourth-and-forever touchdown pass from Jake Plummer to tight end Tywan Mitchell to take the lead (After Mitchell made his improbable catch, TV reporter Lesley Visser, who was to do postgame, leaned over the very high row above us writers in the press box and yelled, “Who was that?” She had no idea who Mitchell was. Few did). But the Giants drove down and scored with 25 seconds left for a heartbreaking loss.
Afterward, the specter of the Gramatica injury hovered over everything.
Bill was not happy with the way the whole thing was covered. He and brother Martin had always taken grief about the way they jumped for joy over every single kick, so it was natural they got jabbed for it when it turned into an injury. A couple days later, Gramatica came to talk to a couple of beat writers, but I always sensed he was pretty ticked at the media.
He seemed to get past it the following training camp, when he was remarkably back to kick. He had booted game-winners against Oakland and San Diego the year before prior to the injury, and the next year, he did the same against Dallas and Carolina when the Cards got out to a 3-2 start. Everybody got injured on the Cards that season, however, including Gramatica (his back this time) and his time in Arizona faded quickly – early in the 2003 season, he was gone. It ended, not with a bang, but without a kicker (who is most famously known for a celebration gone wrong).
Tags: Bill Gramatica, Giants, Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman, Revisionist history, Tywan Mitchell
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