As the World Trade Center burned, Pat Tillman said he realized his role as an NFL player was “shallow” and unfulfilling. Within a year, he walked away from millions of dollars and the comforts of a pro athlete for the hard bunk of an Army Ranger. He would have turned 45 earlier this month, but he died fighting in Afghanistan in 2004.
To honor his sacrifice, the Arizona Cardinals, players, and fans paid their respects to Pat Tillman during the team’s game against the Panthers on Sunday.
Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt and tight end Maxx Williams wore Tillman’s jersey on Sunday, though neither played as both are out with injury. Defensive end Chandler Jones wore cleats during the team’s pregame warmup that featured a photo of Tillman in his uniform on one side. The U.S. Army Rangers insignia and the words “American by birth, patriot by choice” are on the other side.
In a ceremony before the game, the USO presented the Pat Tillman Foundation with one of his former jerseys, Fox News said. That jersey hung at the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for 16 years. The military closed the airfield earlier this year and returned the jersey to the United States in August.
Earlier this year, JJ Watt released a signature shoe in honor of Tillman.
“Pat Tillman lived his life in service of a purpose bigger than himself. That is his true legacy. This shoe is a small way to pay tribute to a legendary man, by not only honoring him but also donating to the foundation established in his name and ensuring that his legacy lives on,” Watt said in a statement.
Petition to Retire Pat Tillman’s Number Gains Attention
The Arizona Cardinals retired Pat Tillman’s No. 40 shortly after his death. But some fans want the NFL to hang up that number forever.
Nearly 60,000 people have signed a petition asking the league to retire No. 40 for all players.
Sean Wilson, who created the petition, said he wants to see Tillman’s name and number hanging from the rafters in every NFL stadium.
“It is my goal to have the NFL retire Pat Tillman’s jersey No. 40 league-wide to honor Pat Tillman’s ultimate sacrifice he made as a result of 09/11/2001,” he wrote in the petition. “They say a man is not dead while his name is still spoken. It is my hope that for the rest of time, anytime an unknown person enters an NFL stadium, they will see TILLMAN 40 hanging from the rafters, and his story will have to be told and his name will continue to be spoken.”
The NFL has never retired a number league-wide before, but signers of the petition say this is a special case.
“He is what a true American hero is,” one person wrote. “He literally gave his life for his country over a game that would pay him millions. So much respect and love for a man who was gone way too soon.”