From NFL star to Army Ranger: Pat Tillman left professional football at the height of his career to serve in the Army following the events of 9/11.

With the start of the NFL season, we honor the service of a Veteran who played professional football.

Pat Tillman was born Nov. 6, 1976, in Fremont, California. He was the oldest of three, and was very close with his family and friends. At school, his football talent led the high school team to the division championship; it led him to a college scholarship at Arizona State University (ASU).

Tillman played football from 1994 to 1997 at ASU. In 1997, he led the Sun Devils to an undefeated season and a trip to the Rose Bowl. He was the team’s Player of the Year and the PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year. And he was no different in the classroom, either. He graduated in 3.5 years and won the Clyde B. Smith Academic Award, the Sporting News Honda Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, and the Sun Angel Student-Athlete of the Year Award.

In 1998, the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play professionally. In his rookie season, he played ten games, helping the team to its first playoff berth in 51 years. He posted 145 tackles in 2000. As if that wasn’t enough, he prepared for the 2001 training camp by competing in a 70.2-mile triathlon. Because of his loyalty to the Cardinals, he rejected an impressive multi million-dollar offer to play for the St. Louis Rams.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman completed the remainder of the 2001 season, then turned down a lucrative contract extension from the Cardinals to enlist in the Army.

He wanted to serve his country.

He told NBC News, “My great grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars, and I really haven’t done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that.”

Because of his decision, Tillman received a lot of attention from the media. Few people are good enough to play professional sports. Fewer rise to the top.

After completing training, he entered the Army’s Ranger Indoctrination Program. Tillman deployed to Iraq during the invasion, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He completed Ranger School in late 2003 and subsequently deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Tillman was killed in action April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan. His battalion was involved in Operation Mountain Storm, part of the U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda and the former Taliban government along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. An Army spokesman stated that Pat was killed in the early evening during a firefight on a road about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.

Following his death, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal approved Tillman’s nomination for a Silver Star. Senator John McCain delivered a eulogy during a televised memorial service on May 3, 2004.

After his death, Tillman was commemorated by the Sun Devils, the Cardinals and the NFL. Both the Sun Devils and the Cardinals retired his player number in his honor. In 2010, the NFL honored Tillman by adding him to the NFL Hall of Fame and working with the Pat Tillman Foundation to create a scholarship in his honor.

We honor his service.


Editor: Michelle Cannon

Graphics: Jessica Hunsinger

Share this story

Published on Sep. 5, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.8 min.

Views to date: 670


  1. David Kafka September 28, 2019 at 5:29 am

    Honored, Selfless, Integrity, and yet there was nothing but lies around his records involving the end of his life. I never met him only new of him. There is a lesson here.

  2. Lee J Bentz September 11, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Why is it left out that he was killed by 3 American bullets??????????

  3. Charles Hadd Jr.31 September 7, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Chickenhawks such as Dick Chaney and Newt Gingrich disgust me. Tillman makes me proud to be a veteran.

  4. Harold Tucker September 7, 2019 at 10:03 am

    As you should. He died in combat he didn’t chose the bullet that killed him.

  5. Christopher Thomas Dawson September 6, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    I got the honor of getting to know Pat while attending Ranger School with him. He was truly humble. I asked him after FL phase was finished if he would go back to playing football or stay in the Army. He said to me between bites of hotdog…” I’ll finish my enlistment, …then I would like to go back to playing football when this is all over”. I thanked him for giving all of us who didn’t have $$$ and still wanted to serve there county a feeling that good men and women still fight for what’s right in this country. He signed my Ranger school art during our graduation the day before Thanksgiving 2003. I will never forget Pat as a friend and brother. R.I.P. RLTW!

  6. Frank Campbell September 6, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    You have done a great disservice to Pat Tillman and his family by omitting the details of his death to “friendly fire”, which was initially covered up by Army brass. That was definitely part of his life. There is nothing pretty about war, especially when higher-ups conceal the particulars of the death of a serviceman just to improve the cosmetics of war.

  7. Conrad Cool September 6, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Adam – There was a whole paragraph about his death. What was missing was the rest of the story. Failure to tell it, perpetuates the accusations that you are attempting to cover it up. Everyone is aware of it now so be honest with your readers.

  8. JAMES E. HENSLEY September 6, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    The acts of “bemedalling” someone at every turn in the road are too numerous. Pat Tillman served, was there, and well aware of what was going on. As always, he followed through and followed up on his intentions. Of that there is no doubt!

    Persons involved within the ‘Awards & Decorations’ aspects of military service routinely see revisions to recommendations and draft write-ups. It is never outwardly apparent how the final approved format gets through the shuffle of paperwork.

    Regardless, Pat Tillman took part in a Combat Engagement and his death ensued as a result thereof. No quibbling is to be presented as to how and by whom the shot(s) fired brought the death of Pat Tillman.

  9. Danial Corrigan September 6, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    I’m looking forward to reading articles about firemen, bus drivers, mail carriers, and many others, who gave up their careers to serve.

  10. John Milano September 6, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    What sacrifice thanks for leading the way in most areas of your life I hope someone lead you to Jesus Christ Pat ,Jesus truly leads the Way.

  11. Alvin Rains September 6, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    As a Vietnam vet 1969, it’s not clear why Pat was a hero. Heroic for what he gave to get shot by his own troops for sure. The incident details were know within minutes. You have highly trained army rangers shooting at their own? There were many such incidents in Vietnam some not accidental aka fragging. The fact that a silver star was proposed says cover up to me. Every casualty in the Middle East has been and continues to be a disaster!

    • Max September 7, 2019 at 3:42 am

      Get real dude
      And I guess everyone was given an opportunity to play pro football

    • Max blog September 7, 2019 at 3:45 am

      And I guess everyone was given a chance to play pro ball

  12. Rock Cowles September 6, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    RIP, Pat.

  13. James Smith September 6, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you Pat for serving the greatest country in the world. There is a nice facility at Bagram Air Station dedicated to Pat. May God bless the United States of America.

  14. MICHAEL William Maggio September 6, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    I served in Afghanistan in 2010-2011.
    It was such an Honor to see that the USO in Jalalabad having honored Pat with with photos and his Jersey, along with his Military accomplishment. Im proud to have served in the capacity of his memories. Pat gave up football to fight for what he believed in, and that was to serve his Country. RIP my brother in Arms…
    Army Strong

  15. Mike Ivey September 6, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    In my humble opinion, A Hero among Heroes! One cannot help tho, that his and the others who lost their lives and those who are scared, both mentally and physically, well, what a tremendous waste of time and effort. We don’t fight wars to win them anymore. Every war since WWII has been nothing but a waste of time and money and the carnage cannot be justified. But, Imwant to Thank Mr. Tillman. What he did was just true patriotism! Something that is truly missing in our country today!

  16. Michael C. Cassady September 6, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Why was it not mentioned in the article that Tillman was found to have been killed by friendly fire?

    • Adam Stump September 6, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      We focused on Pat Tillman’s life and service, not his death.

    • Sheila Camp September 6, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      I was wondering the same thing…great article…but still… RIP Pat Tillman

  17. William Walter Karp September 6, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    A real HERO !

  18. Mike Williams September 6, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    In your story you missed SOMETHING.—-
    “At first, the Army reported that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire. Controversy ensued when a month later, on May 28, 2004, the Pentagon notified the Tillman family that he had been killed by a friendly fire incident; the family and other critics allege that the Department of Defense delayed the disclosure for weeks after Tillman’s memorial service out of a desire to protect the image of the U.S. military.” This is copied from somewhere else.

    • Adam Stump September 6, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      We focused on Pat Tillman’s life and service, not his death.

  19. Guy Montag September 6, 2019 at 11:07 am

    “killed in action … Gen. Stanley McChrystal approved Tillman’s nomination for a Silver Star.”

    Really! Aren’t you “putting lipstick on a pig” by not even mentioning that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. And, even though most of his Ranger platoon on-the-ground immediately knew it was FF, the Generals decided to hide that truth from Tillman’s family for 5 weeks, and instead put on a PR show for our nation that he died heroically and gave him a Silver Star with falsified witness statements.

    For details, I’d suggest the DVD “The Tillman Story,” Mary Tillman’s book “Boots on the Ground by Dusk,” or Jon Krakauer’s paperback “Where Men Win Glory” (discusses Gen. McChrystal’s role), or my Feral Firefighter blog post which discuss the bi-partisan whitewash of those responsible for the cover-up of Tillman’s friendly-fire death.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • On the National Day of Service, NCA invites family, friends and volunteers to visit its Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) to post photos and tributes.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Ming Chang, who was the first naturalized Asian American to reach flag rank in the Navy.

  • Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Franklin Douglas “Doug” Miller, a Green Beret in the Vietnam War who was awarded a Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, six Purple Hearts and an Air Medal for his service.