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Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.

Friday, April 23, 2004  

Pat Tillman was my all-time favorite Sun Devil.

Even before Pat went on to the NFL, and eventually made his fateful decision to join the Army and serve his nation, I had a deep and abiding love and respect for how he played football and how he played life. He was the kind of person that, in your weaker moments, you wished you could be. Honest. Dependable. Someone who put 100% of himself in everything he did. And yet somehow, he managed to stay humble.

The announcement this morning that Pat had been killed in action in Afghanistan was a blow, not only to people like myself who were fans, but to the campus where I graduated from and still work at. The Governor ordered flags flown at half-mast here at ASU, and things are unusually still and quiet today. It's like the wind was knocked out of 45,000 people.

Most of you have seen or heard the stories about what Pat did. Looking at free-agency and a healthy $3.6 million payday from the Arizona Cardinals, Pat instead came home from his honeymoon in May 2002 and decided that his life needed something else, and that he had a purpose elsewhere. He declined to sign, and instead he and his brother Kevin joined the Army and went for Ranger training. Pat declined every interview request made of him at that point, preferring to be just another guy who was going to serve his nation's armed forces. He promised that after his three year commitment to the Army he would return to the NFL, and you never doubted him for a second. He was just that kind of man.

How many of us could have done that? I like to believe that I am a relatively principled person, and someone who sticks to his beliefs, but if accepting $3.6 million meant keeping myself out of mortal harm, I'm not sure there's a guiding ideal on Earth that would stop me from cashing those checks. I don't know anyone else who feels differently, either.

As the casualties have mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few months, there has been a quiet anonymity to the fallen. We're no longer being fed bullshit stories like Jessica Lynch's rescue, and heroes like Lori Piestewa have dropped off the radar. In fact, since the official "war" ended, we aren't really seeing any names at all. Today that changed.

The death of Pat Tillman might well turn out to be a pivotal event in the Middle Eastern conflicts. He wasn't just a young kid from North Dakota; he was a public figure, someone that people had seen on television and known of before he went into the service. What worries me is that the politicos on each side will find a way to get propaganda value out of Pat's sacrifice, and what will happen to his family, who don't deserve that pain. His brother Kevin serves in the same unit with Pat. How frightened must they be right now?

Wars are generally fought by, and compile the deaths of, forgotten heroes. That's the very nature of conflict. The generals, those with stars on their uniforms, are the ones who write books. Pat Tillman, had he lived and returned to play football again would have never written a book. But his story is one in which we will all be forever able to share. Rest in peace, PT. You did the Sun Devils, the Nation, and your family, proud. God bless.


1:48 PM

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