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Friday, April 23

Former NFL player-turned-soldier killed in Middle East

By The Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON - Arizona Cardinal strong safety Pat Tillman, who left the NFL and a seven-figure salary to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been killed in Afghanistan. He was 27.

"Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror," said White House spokesman Taylor Gross. "His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush."

Distraught Cardinals players and management set up a memorial to Tillman outside the training camp in Tempe, Ariz. Flags flew at half staff on the campus of Arizona State University, Tillman's alma mater.

"In sports, we have a tendency to overuse terms like courage, bravery and heroes. Then someone special like Pat Tillman comes along and reminds us of what those terms really mean," said Cardinals vice president and general counsel Michael Bidwell, who called news of Tillman's death "a kick to the gut."

The death of Tillman, a U.S. Army Ranger, was confirmed by the House Armed Services Committee, whose members were notified by the Department of Defense.

According to ABC News, Tillman was out on patrol with a group of Rangers in a mountainous region on the Afghan-Pakistani border when the patrol was caught in a coordinated ambush. One enemy combatant was killed and Tillman was the only U.S. casualty, ABC reported.

When Tillman enlisted in the Army he walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract extension with the Cardinals. The decision drew nationwide headlines, although he did not seek the headlines.

Tillman made the decision after returning from his honeymoon with wife, Marie, in 2002, joining the elite Army Rangers with his brother Kevin.

"I knew that Pat had very strong feelings after Sept. 11. I think that we all did," said Cardinals guard Pete Kendall. "The difference between Pat and the rest of us is that he was willing to act on them, to put everything else aside and go over there."

Former Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis said Tillman represented all that was good in sports, "bringing passion, honor, integrity and dignity to the game."

McGinnis said Tillman knew his purpose in life. He said Tillman proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling, "which was to protect and defend our country," and that Tillman represents those "who have and will make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Friday he was "heartbroken" by the news of Tillman's death.

"The tragic loss of this extraordinary young man will seem a heavy blow to out nation's morale, as it is surely a grievous injury to his loved ones," said McCain, whose latest book is on the subject of bravery.

"Many American families have suffered the same terrible sacrifice that Pat's family must now bear, and the patriotism that their loved ones exemplified is as fine and compelling as Pat's.

"But there is in Pat Tillman's example, in his unexpected choice of duty to his country over the riches and other comforts of celebrity, and in his humility, such an inspiration to all of us to reclaim the essential public-spiritness of Americans that many of us, in low moments, had worried was no longer our common distinguishing trait."

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., asked, "Where do we get such men as these? Where to we find these people willing to stand up for America?"

"He chose action rather than words. He just wanted to serve his country. He was a remarkable person," Hayworth said. "He lived the American dream, and he fought to preserve the American dream and our way of life."

Tillman reportedly had hopes of resuming his NFL career after the three-year Army commitment, in 2005.

A seventh-round pick out of ASU in 1998, Tillman was a starter in the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons.

Tillman has always marched to his own beat. Upon entering ASU, he told coach Bruce Snyder that he was not redshirting, that he had a life to pursue after four years of college. He graduated in three and a half years with a degree in marketing and a 3.84 grade-point average.

"Once he decides to do something and accomplishes it, he really likes to do more," Snyder said in 2002. "The normal routine just kills him."

In 2001, he declined to pursue a five-year, $9 million offer from the St. Louis Rams because he felt loyalty to the Cardinals' coaches, who had taken a chance on him.

As a rookie trying to make the team, Tillman rode a bicycle to the team's Tempe facility each day because he didn't own a car. And he refused to use a cell phone.

Tillman grew antsy in the off-seasons and wasn't content unless he was accomplishing something. In 2000, he ran a marathon. And the following year, he completed a triathlon.