Pat Tillman began his next level football career at Arizona State University. He was a three-year starter for the Sun Devils, playing 33 total games and recording seven interceptions as a linebacker. In his final season, Tillman was recognized as Pac-10 defensive player of the year, an award which would later bear his name. His hard work and determination led to him being drafted in the seventh round by the Arizona Cardinals with the 226th overall pick in the 1998 NFL draft.
Tillman transitioned to a safety role in his time with the Cardinals. As a rookie, Tillman played in all 16 games and started 10 at free safety, recording 73 total tackles and a sack. In his second season, Tillman was moved to more of a secondary role as a back up strong safety where he also played 16 games, starting one. Tillman recorded a pair of interceptions and four passes defended in addition to his 30 total tackles.
Entering his third season in the NFL, the 24-year-old Tillman started all 16 games at strong safety, recording one interception, nine passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one-and-a-half sacks, and 145 total tackles. Tillman was sixth in the NFL in solo tackles and fifth in total tackles. In his fourth and what proved to be his final season in the NFL, Tillman started 12 games at strong safety, recording a pair of passes defended, a forced fumble, and 92 tackles. Tillman’s final game with the Cardinals came on January 6, 2002, just months after the events of 9/11.
Within six months of playing his final game, Tillman had enlisted in the United States Army after the events of September 11. Tillman became a member of the Army Rangers and completed service time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After returning from his work in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tillman began work at Fort Benning in Georgia before graduating near the end of 2003. Tillman was deployed to Afghanistan, but on April 22, 2004, he was reported dead via enemy combatants.
Later, the United States military confirmed that the death was the result of friendly fire rather than an Afghani attack. Tillman was posthumously awarded the rank of corporal, also receiving the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. Tillman was the first professional football player to be killed in combat since Bob Kalsu, a former Buffalo Bill.
Despite controversies since his death, Tillman has been honored by the Cardinals who retired his number 40 jersey, Arizona State who retired his number 42 jersey, and the creation of the Pat Tillman Foundation.
Thank you for your service, Mr. Tillman.