Revisionist History: Tillman joins the Army

Posted by Darren Urban on July 1, 2011 – 10:57 am

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.”

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26 Responses to “Revisionist History: Tillman joins the Army”

  1. By AndyStandsUp on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    I think they should have used Tillman as the “Most Interesting Man In The World” character.
    “I don’t always do things some people would think of as out-of-the-box and/or irrational, but when I do, I do it from the heart.”
    “Stay true to yourself, my friends.”

    If anyone hasn’t seen “The Pat Tillman Story” I strongly recommend it. Though most of the movie centers around the government involvement, there are scenes that show’s Pat’s uniqueness, passion and of course football acumen.
    I loved that guy.
    Darren, are you the reporter off screen, early in the film, asking Tillman questions?

  2. By Darren Urban on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    AndyStands —

    RE: Interview

    I was not. That was long before I worked for the team. That was the director of broadcasting at the time, who has long since left.

  3. By Brad O'Neill on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    if i have a son his middle name will be Tillman.

  4. By bluepitt on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply


  5. By bluepitt on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    51051CO0023 (Charley Co.)

    (I’m Not The KillerMan I’m The KillerMan’s
    Son But Ill Do The Killen Till The KillerMan Comes?)

    Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
    And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
    Isaiah 6:8

  6. By Peter in Canada on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    Today July 1 is Canada Day when we celebrate the founding of Canada. We enjoy a good life with a stable economy and we are pretty much free to do what we want. This freedom has been made possible in large part by being friends and allies of the U.S. and the sacrifices of many Americans like Pat Tillman. So Darren and all the posters, I wish you all a happy Independence Day.

  7. By Scott H on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    God bless Pat Tillman. As a cardinals fan, I loved him for his dedication to this team and showing that by staying here when he could have taken more money to go to the Rams. This guy was NOT about money. He was about loyalty and principle. He became an American hero when he left football to join the “team” he knew needed him more. What he did as a man is ultimately much more important that what he did as a football player. But that said, I am SOOOOO proud that when he played, he wore a Cardinals uniform.

  8. By ross on Jul 2, 2011 | Reply

    I live in Virginia, and interestingly enough I see Tillman jerseys from time to time. This guy touched a lot of people with his bravery and sense of duty.

  9. By Rodgerscromartie17 on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    enough of the Pat tilam posts already, how many more times is he going to be brought up, lets talk modern football, not the past, its not like we are about to forget about him, stop bringing up bad memorys, rip

  10. By Chris B on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    That picture of him arriving at Flagstaff on a bike with his bags over his shoulders:
    Tell me he didn’t ride all the way from Phoenix like that???

  11. By Darren Urban on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    Chris B —

    RE: Tillman bike

    Ah, no. He drove up with the bike. The bike was to get around campus.

  12. By Javi on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    so darren, i read your article about drc and kolb, but now that more research and understanding has been done do you now believe that drc will go to philly for kolb?

  13. By Darren Urban on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    Javi —

    RE: DRC/Kolb

    There is no research. Nothing is happening right now. Is it possible? Sure. I still do not think the Cards will trade DRC however. As for money for Kolb, he has to be traded for something. He’s not a free agent.

  14. By Javi on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    My second question darren is so cant the cards just give kolb some money and not trade DRC

  15. By Javi on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    My second question darren is so cant the cards just give kolb some money and not trade DRC ?

    what about the OL who will the cardas target in free agency ? to improve their offensive line because what good does it make to have kolb if we have a horrible offensive line?

  16. By AndyStandsUp on Jul 3, 2011 | Reply

    Please wake me when the world refuses to revolve around you.

  17. By cardsalltheway on Jul 4, 2011 | Reply

    I live and work overseas and yes many military folk are young and unwise(search USFK court martial results Germany/Japan/S.Korea etc…in any given month/year), they sometimes embarrass the common American citizen who works abroad. Although I’ve been labeled “negative”(putting it mildly) by Darren and his fans, I wonder if any military folk could possibly be “negative”? I’d rather be referred to as a “dedicated fan” since I also wake up early Monday mornings to watch NFL games, then go to work as Ken W. has referred to those in the military?

    How about it Ken W., can you see to it that I’m now referred to as nothing but a “dedicated fan”?

    I don’t like how the NFL aligns itself with the military for everything its worth simply because they might donate money/politics.

  18. By cardsalltheway on Jul 4, 2011 | Reply

    Here, this might make is simpler for everyone…

    Mind you, the above link is just one country. There are countless(150) countries the U.S. military spreads its “negative” behavior.

    Of course Iraq court martials/criminal prosecution information will be more difficult to find since only a few might care that it be found/let is slide?

  19. By cardsalltheway on Jul 4, 2011 | Reply

    Perhaps Detroit Lion etc…fans would be more welcome on this site than some Cardinal fans?

  20. By Scott H on Jul 4, 2011 | Reply


    Dude, you might have considered actually THINKING before you posted what you did. BTW, in case ya didn’t notice, the NFL is locked down and there IS NOTHING going on with “modern football” ( whatever the hell that is ). That, and the fact that we ARE celebrating the nation’s birthday today and it seems a pretty good moment to remember a military hero who also played football AND played for the Cardinals. Really, really poor choice of words on your part. Feel free to spare us from your next post if that’s the best you can do.

  21. By NickP on Jul 5, 2011 | Reply

    @Cardsalltheway Well maybe Darren and his “fans” see that you and andystandsup need to go and make your own blog!!! And you both can write about how much the Cards suck and all the problems they have and how bad the NFL is as a whole. Leave this page to actual fans who want to focus on the more positive aspects of the current season or the current team we have. Thanks 🙂

  22. By BIG RED on Jul 5, 2011 | Reply

    It was an honor to have seen this man, play as a Cardinal. There will never be another “PAT TILLMAN”.

  1. 4 Trackback(s)

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  3. May 27, 2012: Word From the Birds Blog | Remembering on Memorial Day
  4. Apr 22, 2014: Cardinals Blogs | A Tillman story
  5. Mar 22, 2016: Cardinals Blogs | Former Card Colledge joins military

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