Remembering Pat Tillman … and his case for Canton
As America celebrates the 118th running of the Boston Marathon today—and the renewal of life a year after the terrorist attack there killed three and wounded 264—we also should remember that Tuesday is the 10-year anniversary of the death by friendly fire of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.
Tillman is a unique player, and man, in recent NFL history. The only time I ever spoke with him was an hour or so before a Cardinals practice in 1998, in Tempe, Ariz. Tillman was a rookie safety, drafted in the seventh round from Arizona State to the team that was just a couple of miles from where he went to college. And he showed up for work that day—and for our interview—riding a 10-speed bike. That’s the only player I ever interviewed who arrived on a bike. The rest of the story is incredible, and incredibly sad. After 9/11, he chose to give up a potentially lucrative free-agent contract to join the Army and suit up to defend his country in Afghanistan. And while on duty April 22, 2004, Tillman was shot three times in the head by one or more of his countrymen. The circumstances around the death, which took place in a firefight with enemy forces near the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan, remain a mystery.
However he died, Tillman was a hero to millions in the country for sacrificing his NFL career to serve in the military, and that legend only grew when he died. He is one the most memorable, and admirable, figures of our time. It would be just to take a moment tomorrow to remember Tillman and his service and his sacrifice.
Now, I hadn’t thought of the Hall of Fame part of it in several years, until Cris Collinsworth tweeted this on Sunday, after ESPN ran a tribute to Tillman:
If I live to be a million years old, I will never understand why Pat Tillman is not in the NFL Hall of Fame. Thanks ESPN. Great reporting.
— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthNBC) April 20, 2014
Collinsworth and I have discussed this. He remains unconvinced by my argument, which is this: Should all 26 NFL players who have died in service to our country—either in World War II, Vietnam or Afghanistan—be enshrined in Canton? Is one NFL player’s service worth more than others’? Should every player who served in wartime be enshrined, or put in a wing of the Hall of Fame? For instance, quarterback Eddie LeBaron was twice wounded in the Korean War, earned a Purple Heart, and came back to play in the NFL; he’s not in the Hall—should he be? And what about others who played football and went on to great things? Byron “Whizzer” White, a running back in the NFL, went on to be a Supreme Court justice. Jack Kemp quarterbacked the Bills, then became a nine-term Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Should they be in?
I think football players and coaches and executives should be in the Hall of Fame for what they accomplish as football players and coaches and executives, and not for anything else.
There is, by the way, a large area of the Hall devoted to NFL men who have served, including a big display for Tillman. I highly recommend seeing it when you visit Canton and see the vastly improved Hall.
Quotes of the Week
“I don’t see how people can say some of the things that they say when you have a guy that rushed for almost 1,100 yards with a torn meniscus. But a player like myself, that’s accomplished so much in my career, it’s always great to have things to put a chip on your shoulder, to have things to motivate you. I think I can turn a bad thing, [with] what people are saying, into a good thing. For me, that gives me motivation, keeps me hungry and keeps a chip on my shoulder to prove those naysayers wrong, because no matter how good you are, no matter what things you do—I could have rushed for 1,500-1,600 yards last year for the Titans and if we didn’t make it to the playoffs, or we didn’t win games, there would still be things that would be said.’’
—New Jets running back Chris Johnson, on the criticism he heard last year, when he averaged a paltry 3.9 yards per rush while playing hurt for part of the season.
“His father treated him a little bit differently than he treated us. The abused don’t always have to become abusers. Children of alcoholics don’t have to produce dysfunctional families. And children who grew up poor don’t have to repeat that cycle.”
—Lions coach Jim Caldwell, via the Detroit News, speaking to inner-city high school students in Detroit on Wednesday. Caldwell’s father, the coach said, went to work at age 9, was kicked out of his home at 13, and went on to work for General Motors for 35 years. His message, in part, was to read a lot, and make do with what you have. He told a story about making a kite out of paper and fishing line for a Cub Scout competition—and the kite flew higher than everyone else’s.
“I’m going to give it a heavy shot. I would love to do it, and if I can do it, I’m keeping it in Buffalo.”
—Donald Trump, who says he will make an effort to buy the Buffalo Bills, to the Buffalo News.
“I really just should have coached the team, but he [owner Randy Lerner] didn’t want me to.”
—Former Browns president Mike Holmgren to me last week, on whether he had any regrets about his years in Cleveland.
“If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years. To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.’’
—The last public words of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former middleweight boxer and convicted-murderer-turned-wrongly-accused-cause-celebre, in a column he wrote for the New York Daily News two months ago when he was dying of prostate cancer. Carter succumbed Sunday in Toronto.
The New York Times wrote an excellent, thorough obit of Carter.