April 22 marked the anniversary of the passing of one of America’s most prominent figures. Pat Tillman, a former football player and soldier in the US Army, was killed in combat during his tour of duty in Afghanistan back in 2004. He was only 27-years-old.
Tillman’s football career took off once he attended Arizona State University. As a linebacker, he became a key contributor for the Sun Devils. In 1996, he helped ASU achieve an 11-1 record, along with a berth in the Rose Bowl.
In 1997, Tillman was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He was also recognized for his academic accomplishments, graduating from Arizona State with a degree in marketing and a 3.85 GPA.
Along with the grades, many academic awards also followed for Tillman. These awards included the 1996 and 1997 Clyde B. Smith Academic Award, the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and the Sun Angel Student Athlete of the Year.
Despite an outstanding college career, Tillman was not selected until the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft. There was an upside; he would not have to leave the state. The Arizona Cardinals selected him as the 226th overall choice in the draft.
As a rookie, Tillman switched positions. He went from linebacker to safety, but often displayed his tackling ability. In three seasons with the Cardinals, he recorded 238 tackles. He also registered two and a half sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Tillman holds a special place in the hearts of his former teams. His number 42 has been retired by Arizona State University. His number 40 has been retired by the Cardinals and has also been inducted into the team’s “ring of honor” and the College Football hall of fame.
Before the start of the 2002 season, Tillman decided to end his pro football career. He, along with his younger brother, Kevin, decided to enlist in the US Army. This decision came as a result of the terrorist attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
When Tillman served in the United States Army, he was a Corporal who served in two different units: the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the 75th Ranger Regiment. He fought in the War on Terror, the Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan.
In the early stages of 2004, enemy combatants attacked Tillman, along with his unit, in an ambush. When he was killed, the U.S. Department of Defense determined that his death came as a result of a friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight.
For his service, Tillman received a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and a Meritorious Service Medal. He also has a special tribute plaque that is on display at the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga. A portrait of Tillman is also on display at the Arlington Memorial Cemetery.