Spirit of Pat Tillman lives on

Pat Tillman

PHOENIX -- Jeremy Staat hung up the phone after talking to his agent, Frank Bauer, and dialed a number almost immediately.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Staat had thought of joining the military. Friend and former teammate Pat Tillman actually did. Now, Bauer wanted Staat to talk Tillman out of leaving millions on the table as a safety for the Arizona Cardinals to finish his four-year commitment to the Army. Bauer said he found a loophole that would allow Tillman to be discharged because he had already seen combat.

Staat was in the middle of offseason workouts with the St. Louis Rams when he called Tillman, who was in Seattle getting ready to go back to the Middle East. On that call Tillman, who was usually tight-lipped about his experience as an Army Ranger, told Staat he wasn't cutting his tour short.

"He said, 'I signed up for four years, and I'm going to do my four years and then I'll come back,'" Staat remembered. "I said, 'I'm just letting you know Frank's worried about you again.' He said, 'Tell Frank not to worry. I got it all under control.'"

Staat hung up the phone. It was a valiant but futile effort, as Staat had known it would be. Tillman was the type who believed in loyalty and dedication, whether it was to his wife, Marie, his family, his friends, his teammates, his sport, his school or his country.

It was a done deal. Tillman was heading back to the Middle East.

"The guy was very dedicated to things he believed in," Staat said. "That was basically the last time I ever talked to him."

About a month later -- on April 22, 2004 -- Tillman was killed in action.

To most of America, Tillman is symbol of patriotism. To others, he is a hero. He is the man who followed his heart, which swelled with pride yet overflowed with questions on Sept. 11, 2001. It led him from the desert of Arizona to the mountainous terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan. To some, he might have seemed naive for trading the riches of a professional football career to chase Osama bin Laden.

To those who knew him best, however, he is just Pat -- the loud, foul-mouthed free spirit who loved to read books about religion and business as much as his playbook.

"They broke the mold with Pat Tillman," Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said.

Ten years have passed since Tillman was killed in Afghanistan; his legacy across the United States has grown. There's a flourishing foundation in his name that helps veterans attend college, and there's a race, Pat's Run, that started with 5,500 runners in 2004 and will have about 28,000 this year.

But, Tillman's friends will tell you, if he were here, he'd shake his head at the attention. He wasn't one to seek the spotlight.

"He'd smile," said Perry Edinger, a former Arizona State athletic trainer and co-founder of Pat's Run. "I think he would be appreciative knowing that people are out there with the concept of trying to change who they are and be better in spite of [the circumstances]."

Arizona State's assistant director of media relations Doug Tammaro said Tillman would laugh at the life-size picture of himself inside the school's athletic center. But he would embrace the larger message.

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