"He knew things. He'd be talking with someone and someone would make a comment, and he would not provoke things but he'd try to get someone's opinion and bring about facts either about the Bible or the Quran and what it says. I'd hear him talking and talking and talking, and I'd be like, 'Jeez, shut up,' but it was so interesting you didn't say that. I'd be like, 'Where'd you get all this information?'"
Tillman knew football wasn't going to be the end game; he wasn't going to spend his life patrolling the secondary. He had finished his business degree in three-and-a-half years. When he went to the NFL, he started dabbling in the stock market and was working on his master's degree in history in the offseasons.
Tillman and Staat would spend hours talking about how they were going to be successful, whether through football or in other ways.
"Tillman didn't care what he had to do to be successful, he would do it whether it would be sacrifice his time by not watching TV and reading a book and educating himself or spending an extra 45 minutes to an hour in the gym getting stronger or trying different things to improve his ability as an athlete," Staat said.
"That's what was great about him. He didn't live by fear. He just did it." That's why his death was even harder to grasp.
"You thought Pat would walk out of a cave with Osama bin Laden," Tammaro said. "And that's what you just pictured -- him just draggin' [bin Laden's] ass, [saying] 'I got him.'
"You knew there was always the possibility [of Tillman dying], but you just didn't think that was going to happen."
Tillman's conversations with Staat usually came over a Guinness beer. And their friendship grew stronger by the pint.
"It was a way to pass the time and have those moments that most people take for granted," Staat said.
"Yeah we had a couple beers, yeah we got a little tipsy on them, but the thing about it is those are the times I'm going to remember most about him because we got the deepest and most personal about the things we cherished. And one of the biggest things he cherished was his family."
A story about Tillman usually includes the F-word. He'd sling it around like he did quarterbacks, but Tillman knew the time and place. He could impress by joking with his teammates one minute and charming ASU alums the next. He knew how to clean it up.
Although it didn't happen often, his friends remembered, Tillman would trade in his flip-flops for dress shoes. At one ASU football banquet Staat remembered, Tillman laced up a pair of black leather shoes and tightened the knot on his tie.
"He wore ties. ... He didn't look very comfortable in it, but he would wear it," Staat said with a laugh. "Not for very long. By time the ceremony was over, I think the tie came off and the shoes were probably untied."
Tillman's loyalty also ran deep.
One day off while he was with the Cardinals, Tillman was asked to sign 300 books about ASU's history. He made the short trip and signed them. But ASU lost all 300. Hesitant, the school asked Tillman whether he could sign another batch of books.
"He didn't even think twice," Tammaro said.
Tillman's desire to fly under the radar didn't just develop when he decided to enlist. In his pro career, he'd visit schools on his days off. At the first Pat's Run, in 2004, what seemed like an entire elementary school showed up.
"I'm like, 'Hey, glad you guys came, but who are you?'" Edinger said. "Then they start telling me their story, and I'm like, 'You're kidding me.'" That's who Tillman was before he was an American hero. He wasn't in it for the fame or the fortune. He did it to improve himself.
"Salt of the earth," Staat said. "You always knew where you stood with him. He wasn't afraid to hurt your feelings if you were a true friend, and you always knew where you stood with him. There were no smoke and mirrors. He called a spade a spade."