There has been and will be a lot written about Pat Tillman of late given that today is the 10th anniversary of his death. (That includes my story last week.) I have written about Tillman many times over the years I have covered the team, having been here for the final two seasons of Pat in a Cardinals uniform, covered his departure into the Army and then his death. There are a few moments that come to mind with Tillman. This is just one that happens to stick in my head.
In 2000, the Cardinals were not very good. The playoff season of just two years previous was a memory. Vince Tobin was fired as head coach seven games into the year. Dave McGinnis was named interim head coach, and was able to remove the interim tag just before the final home game of the season — a relatively inspired loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore. But the week before, the Cards had traveled to Jacksonville to play a Jaguars team that had been to AFC championship games recently but had gotten out to a horrible start before getting hot down the stretch. The Cards went to Florida and were hammered. The Jaguars scored on eight of 10 possessions (with the 10th lasting 14 plays, going just 31 yards and burning the final 9:45 of the clock.)
Tillman had something to say afterward.
“In this league, you have to overcome injuries, problems, coaches getting fired,” he said that day. “Nobody cares (about excuses.) Don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby. We’re not showing the baby right now, we’re just bitching about the pain.
“They are a good offensive team. Does that give us an excuse to lay on our backs and let them roll over us? No. We didn’t play the way we want to play. … I want to say the way we are capable of playing, but we haven’t gone out and played very well and it’s hard for me to even say it. People don’t believe it.”
It was just a loss in a lost season. Given what Tillman’s life — and death — became later, it is barely a footnote. But I think it resonates with me for a couple of reasons, part of which was that I was there to hear the anger and frustration in his voice. I think of it for more than just that though. It was after the 2000 season when Tillman was a restricted free agent, when he could have signed an offer sheet with the Rams for five years and worth $9.6 million. It was a deal the Cards may not have matched, but either way, Tillman would have been paid. Instead, Tillman — who again, mind you, lived through the frustration of the 2000 season and was offered a deal with a Rams team who would end up playing in the Super Bowl the next season — wouldn’t sign the offer sheet. He came back to the Cardinals, for a one-year, $512,000 contract.
Tillman wanted to stay with McGinnis. He wanted to stay with defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. He wanted to help fix the Cardinals, rather than jump to the high-flying Rams. The Cards were the team that drafted him, that took a chance on a college linebacker who might not have translated to the NFL. He didn’t want to leave that. He wasn’t going to make excuses.
Tillman’s life, his legacy, was and is about so much more than football. For me, though, it’s hard to forget those moments in the visiting locker room in Jacksonville, and how Pat Tillman it was.
Tags: Pat Tillman
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