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Remembering Sun Devils, Cardinals and American Legend Pat Tillman on 9/11

Words simply don't do Tillman justice, as he was a superstar on and off the football field.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. 

It's hard to believe it's been two decades since that day, and so much has changed in our country since then. To begin to even describe the impact and fallout of those events would simply fall short of the true weight that morning carried. 

For many of us, it will forever be remembered as a "where were you?" moment. 

For Pat Tillman, the moment changed from "where were you" to "where am I heading?" within months. 

Tillman is a hero across the nation, in many regards. His talents on the field as a football player for both the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Cardinals earned him admiration from football fans, especially on a local level. 

His service to the United States military immortalized him as a patriot who made a sacrifice very few are willing to make. 

Tillman's time at Arizona State was the world's first introduction to the fiercely-competitive player. Tillman started at linebacker for the Sun Devils, eventually playing a big part in helping guide ASU to an undefeated season and Rose Bowl appearance, a team revered in Sun Devil lore to this day. 

Tillman's senior year at Arizona State featured multiple honors for the San Jose, Calif., native. Tillman was voted as ASU's Most Valuable Player along with earning the Pac-10's Defensive Player of the Year award. Tillman graduated with a near-perfect GPA prior to heading to the NFL. 

As fate would have it, Tillman would stay in-state after being selected by the Cardinals in the last round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Tillman's days of playing linebacker were over, as his role now featured him playing the safety position. 

Often times, a seventh-round pick is questionable at best to make an NFL roster. Yet much like everything else Tillman did, expectations were exceeded. Tillman played in Arizona for four years, missing just four games during that time. Tillman set a franchise record for most tackles in a single season during his 2000 campaign, amassing 224 total tackles that year. 

Tillman was a talented player, one that played with intensity and physicality while always finding his way to the football. Tillman could have played for a long time in the league, doing what he loved while making millions of dollars. 

That was until Tillman watched the events of 9/11 unfold in front of his eyes on a TV at the Cardinals' practice facility. 

The nation was shook. America was under attack, and innocent civilians had their lives taken while the rest of the country watched on national broadcasts. 

It's a day where 20 years later, emotions for many are still hard to compose. 9/11 will forever live in infamy as a day where the United States was under attack, exposed to the rest of the world. Lives changed forever that day. 

That includes Tillman, who saw a nation he coveted so much shaken to its core. On Sept. 12, 2001, Tillman spoke during an interview about what the American flag meant to him.

"It's like anything, you kind of take it for granted," said Tillman. 

"Especially in the country we live in. We are such a free society . . . I've always had a great deal of feeling for the (United States) flag. But even somebody who considers themselves that way, you just don't think about it all the time. You don't realize what it gives. You don't realize how great a life we have over here. Even as athletes we bitch and moan every now and again about this or that.  

"Times like this, you stop and think about just not only how good we have it, but what kind of a system we live under. What freedoms we're allowed. And that wasn't built overnight. The flag is a symbol of all that. 

"My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor. 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. So I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for."

Tillman decided to serve the country he loved in a time where people such as him were needed the most. Following the 2001 season, Tillman turned down $3.6 million from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army, foregoing an easy life and every other dream he had to fulfill a patriotic duty. 

Tillman spent three years in the Army, with two separate deployments in the middle east. In April of 2004, Tillman's life was ended due to friendly fire. 

Similar to his football career, Tillman's military tenure was decorated. Tillman was posthumously promoted to Corporal while also earning awards such as a Silver Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Medal of Honor. 

Over 17 years following his departure, Tillman's presence remains as strong as ever thanks to the many ways that we choose to honor and remember him. Events such as Pat's Run, set up by the Tillman Foundation, are annual reminders of the legacy Tillman has left behind. 

When you do so much, you're remembered for many reasons. 

The Pac-12 conference renamed their Defensive Player of the Year award after Tillman. Arizona State retired his No. 42 jersey, and continue to carry on his legacy in each game thanks to detailed features on their uniforms that include helmets and jerseys. 

Players walk through the Tillman Tunnel after departing the locker room, where a statue of Tillman greets them (and is touched by the players) on their way to the field. 

Pat Tillman Yellow Helmet

Tillman also entered the College Football Hall of Fame (2010) and Arizona Sports Hall of Fame (2018). 

The Cardinals also have taken steps to honor Tillman, placing him in the team's Ring of Honor while retiring his No. 40 jersey. 

Outside State Farm Stadium sits a 500-pound statue of Tillman, with a 42-foot wall behind it in a nod to his jersey number worn at Arizona State. The Pat Tillman Veterans Center celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2021, which assists veterans earning their degrees at Arizona State. 

Tillman's legacy is flexible yet firm: A highly-educated scholar, an extremely talented football player and above all, a hero to a country that is in debt to him and every other person who has served to protect our freedoms. 

Visits to statues will come and go. Races will be run. Yet the presence of Tillman lives on, standing the test of time. Tillman lives in the hearts of Cardinals and Sun Devil fans alike, with plenty of his jerseys capable of being spotted at their respective games. 

9/11 took many things away from the United States. Tillman, eager to do what he felt was the right and only thing to do, stepped up and voluntarily gave up everything he had to ensure everyone else didn't. 

No amount of money or jerseys sold can ever compare to that. 

Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSunDevils. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSunDevils @AllSunDevils. Like and follow AllSunDevils on Facebook, and for more ASU news visit