What We Learned From Pat Tillman's Remarkable Life

VIDEO: The NFL players letters and journal entries shed light on his decision to enlist in the Army.
ABCNews.com

Pat Tillman, the former professional football player turned Army Ranger, was killed by friendly fire 10 years ago today in Afghanistan.

The military initially informed Tillman's family that he was killed by the Taliban. It wasn't until later that the Tillman family, and the rest of the country, learned the truth.

Jon Krakauer, who spent years researching Tillman for his book, "Where Men Win Glory," told ABC News in 2009 that Tillman was 120 feet away from fellow American soldiers in Afghanistan in the final moments of his life.

"[It's] the difference between second base and home plate, and they are just unloading on these guys," Krakauer said. "Tillman throws a smoke grenade to try and indicate they're friendlies -- no good, they're shot and killed. And that's what happened."

Here's a look back at ten inspiring moments from Tillman's life -- and how his legacy lives on.

He Learned From His Mistakes

Tillman defended a friend in a fight outside a Round Table Pizza restaurant when he was 17. The Leland High School football standout ended up injuring a boy he perceived to be the assailant so badly that he served 30 days in juvenile detention on a felony assault charge that was reduced to a misdemeanor.

"I learned more from that one bad decision," Tillman told Sports Illustrated, "than all the good decisions I've ever made."

He began serving his sentence the weekend he graduated from high school, and finished shortly before he was due to report to training camp with the Arizona State University Sun Devils.

PHOTO: Pat Tillman of the Phoenix Cardinals
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
He Worked For Everything He Achieved

Tillman started playing football when he was 13 after his future wife's father nixed his bid to be on the varsity baseball team. Tillman knew he'd have to work hard to overcome his small size and have coaches and his teammates take him seriously -- and he did just that.

Passion Was Everything

"Passion is kind of an important word for me, whether it’s playing sports or whether it’s just living or whatever you’re going to do. In my opinion you should be passionate about it or else, why do it?" Tillman once said.

PHOTO: Marie and Pat Tillman are seen in this undated family photo.
Marie Tillman
Getting the Girl

Tillman met Marie Ugenti, his future wife, when they were 4 year olds on a soccer team. Despite an unshakable crush, he didn't ask her out until his senior year of high school. (Friends speculated to Krakauer that Tillman finally got the nerve to ask Marie out when he became taller than her).

"All three Tillman brothers always had a lot of respect for their mom," Marie told Krakauer. "From her they learned how to treat women."

Pat Tillman's Widow Writes Book on Moving on After Tragedy

He Didn't Waste Time

Tillman officially signed with Arizona State University on Feb. 2, 1994.

During training camp, Sun Devils coach Bruce Snyder told Tillman that freshmen were typically red-shirted for the season -- meaning they were restricted from appearing in games their first year and would remain in college for five years.

"Coach, you can play me or not play me, but I'm only going to be here for four years," he said, according to Krakauer. "And then I've got things to do with my life."

Tillman graduated from Arizona State University summa cum laude in three and a half years with a marketing degree.

PHOTO: From left, Aeneas Williams of the Arizona Cardinals grabs Pat Tillman as he celebrates
Darryl Webb/East Valley Tribune/Reuters
Loyal to the Cardinals

After college, Tillman joined the Arizona Cardinals as a safety. In 2001, the St. Louis Rams offered him a $9 million payday for five years, but Tillman decided to stay with the Cardinals in the place he had come to call home, for $512,000.

Stayed True to Himself

While Tillman’s teammates drove fancy cars to practice, he opted for a bicycle and flip flops.

Ready For A Challenge

Between NFL seasons, Tillman raced in a marathon one year and a triathlon the next.

"We've got a long-a** off-season. Doing stuff like this gives me something to focus on," Tillman told a reporter from ESPN.

PHOTO: Cpl. Pat Tillman, in a 2003 photo provided by Photography Plus.
Photography Plus/Williamson Stealth Media Solutions/AP Photo
Tillman Enlists

When Pat Tillman walked away from a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to join the Army after 9/11, he became a symbol of sacrifice, but he never felt the need to publicly explain his decision.

Tillman was deeply affected by the terror attacks and turned down a $3.6 million three-year offer from the Arizona Cardinals to become an Army Ranger alongside his brother, Kevin. The Tillman brothers were paid a starting base salary of $1,290 per month.

"For much of my life I've tried to follow a path I believed important," Tillman wrote after his decision to enlist, according to Krakauer's book. "Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful: courage, toughness, strength. These last few years, and especially after recent events, I've come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is. I'm no longer satisfied with the path I've been following ... it's no longer important."

PHOTO: A memorial in honor of Pat Tillman stands outside of Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
Jeff Topping/Reuters
No. 42

This weekend, thousands of people across the country will walk or run 4.2 miles in the annual Pat’s Run. In Arizona, the race will end at the 42-yard line at Sun Devil Stadium, where Tillman started his football career as No. 42.

The event has helped the Pat Tillman Foundation give back to military veterans and their spouses through educational scholarships.

More than 290 scholars have helped carry on Pat’s legacy in the past decade, according to the Pat Tillman Foundation’s website.

"Somewhere inside, we hear a voice," Tillman once said. "It leads us in the direction of who we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow."

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