The Arizona Republic has an article out today that just makes me proud that there are still some who will forego all the pleasure’s of life to serve our country: (h/t Backcountry Conservative)
Pat Tillman had an option.
Four months before dying in Afghanistan, he learned that he could opt out of his military service and that National Football League clubs were clamoring for his services.
Tillman made a decision that symbolized his life, even as it cost him his life.
“At the time, there were some clubs calling me. They all wanted Pat,” said Frank Bauer, Tillman’s agent. “And they all said the same thing: ‘Frank, this kid can get out of it. He’s already served in a war. Just file his discharge papers.’
“He said, ‘Frank, I know it’s flattering and all, but the bottom line is I made this commitment. I’m going to give it one more tour, then I’m going to get ready and train (for the NFL). When do you need me?’ ” Bauer said.
The agent told Tillman he needed to be out of the service by March 2, 2005.
“Cool,” was the reply.
Fate and friendly fire betrayed Tillman in southeastern Afghanistan nearly a year ago, but those final days in America are cherished by Bauer and others in Tillman’s inner circle.
If he had been just a bit more “normal,” he could’ve been playing for the Cardinals right now. Or, according to Bauer, it could’ve been the Dallas Cowboys, the St. Louis Rams or the Seattle Seahawks. He could’ve even won the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
In December 2003, Tillman was an Army Ranger stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., back from his initial tour in Baghdad. It was then that Bauer had begun fielding phone calls from teams suddenly interested in acquiring his client for the 2004 season.
Leading the charge was Seahawks’ General Manager Bob Ferguson, who worked for the Cardinals when he plucked Tillman out of Arizona State with a seventh-round pick in the 1998 NFL draft.
“I told him that Pat had a job in Seattle whenever he came back, on or off the field,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson also urged Bauer to speak with Tillman about pursuing a discharge. For a soldier of Tillman’s status, nearing two years of full duty including service in a war, receiving an honorable discharge before his three-year enlistment was up was a distinct possibility.
Given Tillman’s image and the NFL’s cozy relationship with the military, it’s hard to imagine that he would have been denied his chance to return to pro football.
Tillman’s decision “may be remarkable to everybody else,” said brother-in-law Alex Garwood, director of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “But not if you knew Pat.”
Another twist awaited Tillman that month. The Cardinals had a game scheduled on Dec. 21 in Seattle, and Tillman called Larry Marmie, a close friend and former defensive coordinator in Arizona.
The Cardinals secured Tillman a room in the team hotel and got him tickets for the game. Head coach Dave McGinnis organized a small party in his hotel suite on the eve of the game, after the normal team meeting ended.
Attending were McGinnis, Marmie, Tillman, wife Marie, brother Kevin and two close friends, Ben and Jamie Hill.
“Somewhere in the conversation, Pat or Kevin mentioned the fact that they could get out of the military at this point,” said Marmie, now the Rams’ defensive coordinator. “I didn’t think much of it at first.”
But McGinnis picked up on it and worked the conversation back to this bit of information. Tillman reiterated his commitment, and that was that.
“I can still see them now, Marie sitting on the couch in between Pat and Kevin,” McGinnis said. “I remember thinking what a sacrifice these three young people are making.”
The last breakfast
Tillman, Marmie and McGinnis agreed to meet at 6 the next morning at a Starbucks across the street.
“He ordered some kind of latte,” Marmie said. “I teased him. I told him that sounded like a fancy drink and that I had pictured him as a cup-of-black-coffee kind of guy. He said, ‘I’ve been up here in the Seattle area for a while. I’ve found a few drinks that I kind of like.’ “
The coaches eventually brought Tillman back to the hotel, where the Cardinals were having their pregame meal. McGinnis said that when Tillman walked into the team breakfast, the banquet room fell silent. Former Cardinals middle linebacker Ronald McKinnon quickly ran over and hugged his former teammate.
“Then the room began to buzz. And then they all came up to Pat and started shaking his hand,” McGinnis said. “It was outstanding.”
Later that day, before the game was over (the Cardinals lost 28-10), Tillman and his brother were escorted to the Cardinals locker room. Before reporters were allowed in for interviews, Tillman made the rounds. He said his goodbyes and gave McGinnis a final hug.
“He said, ‘I love you, Coach,’ ” McGinnis said. “I said, ‘I love you, too.’ And then he was gone.”
Shortly after, Ferguson received a phone call from Tillman. The Seahawks general manager hoped it would be regarding his open-ended offer. It was not.
“A company chaplain at Fort Lewis was hoping to get a Seahawks player to come down and speak,” Ferguson said. “And the chaplain had Pat call me.
“He said, ‘(Expletive), I hate calling you like this, Fergie, but this chaplain needs a favor. You know I’m not religious, but he’s a really nice guy, and I want to help him out.”
Ferguson said he would oblige, and then he got around to the subject of playing for the Seahawks.
“I said, ‘By the way, are you thinking of playing again? What are you going to do? How long are you going to be gone?’ ” Ferguson said. “He said he was going to take care of business first. That was the last time we talked.”
Bauer, meanwhile, had another conversation with Tillman. It was worth a final pitch.
“I said, ‘Pat, you’ve got to be kidding. You’ve already been over there. You’ve served your country well. Run with this,’ ” Bauer said.
“He said, ‘No, I’m going to stay. I owe them three years. I’ll do one more tour,’ ” Bauer said. “And that’s the last I ever heard from Pat.”
Because of his sense of duty and purpose, Tillman left his other choices on the table.
Would he have returned to the Cardinals once McGinnis was fired?
Would he have played in Seattle for Ferguson?
Would he have followed Marmie to St. Louis?
And, my, wouldn’t he have been the perfect Patriot?
That was the story of Pat Tillman. “Ain’t a damn day that goes by that I don’t think about this kid,” Bauer said. “This is the all-time classic kid that ever lived.”