Pat Tillman’s Legacy Continues To Live On 20 Years After His Tragic Death

On April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman tragically lost his life. Yet, his legacy as a former NFL player and hero is still thriving 20 years later.

Former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman was a phenomenal football player. Yet, it was his heroism away from the field that is still remembered 20 years after his tragic death.

Despite a successful start to his NFL career, Tillman decided to put his country first and enlist in the U.S. Army in 2002. While that courageous decision is still celebrated today, it ultimately cost Tillman his life.

Pat Tillman Is a Hero That Will Never Be Forgotten

Tillman was born on Nov. 6, 1976, in Fremont, Calif. His parents, Mary and Patrick Tillman, had three sons. Pat was the oldest of the three, followed by his brothers Kevin and Richard. Pat’s first sport was baseball, but he shifted his focus to football during his sophomore year of high school.

He eventually earned the final football scholarship remaining at Arizona State University in 1994. Despite being undersized at 5’11”, Tillman excelled at linebacker. He was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1997.

Following his final season with the Sun Devils, Tillman entered the 1998 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Cardinals with the No. 226 overall pick in the draft. Tillman received a signing bonus of just $21,000 and switched from linebacker to safety.

Although he was a late-round pick, Tillman made an immediate impact with 73 total tackles in 10 games started during his rookie season. In four seasons with the Cardinals, he had 374 total tackles, three interceptions, and 2.5 sacks.

However, on Sept. 11, 2001, the world would change forever following the tragic terrorist attacks against the United States of America. Although Tillman finished out the season with the Cardinals, he knew where he truly wanted to be.

Following his fourth season in Arizona, Tillman turned down a three-year deal worth $3.6 million to enlist in the U.S. Army on May 31, 2002. Pat was joined by his younger brother Kevin, who also enlisted at the time.

Tillman participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in September 2003. He was then eventually deployed to Afghanistan at Forward Operating Base Salerno.

On April 22, 2004, Tillman was tragically killed by friendly fire following confusion caused by nearby gunfire.

Following his tragic death, Tillman was posthumously promoted from specialist to corporal and received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. Yet, those honors weren’t the only way that Tillman has been honored and celebrated over the years.

Both the Cardinals and Sun Devils have since retired Tillman’s jersey number. He is also remembered in the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor. There is a statue of Tillman to honor his legacy outside of both home stadiums for the Cardinals and Sun Devils as well.

The Pat Tillman Foundation was founded on April 30, 2004, to honor the fallen hero. The foundation provides academic scholarships and leadership development for service members, veterans, and their spouses.

The foundation honors Tillman each year with a fund-raising event titled “Pat’s Run.” The 4.2-mile run and walk event is now attended by more than 30,000 participants each year. The course fittingly ends inside Sun Devil Stadium, where Tillman started his legacy.

While 20 years have passed since Tillman’s tragic death, it’s clear that his legacy is still alive and well. Tillman’s heroism will never be forgotten as the Cardinals, Sun Devils, and countless others continue to honor him each and every year.

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