The story of former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman has resonated with a plethora of football players and non-athletes alike since his tragic passing in 2004.
Count the franchise's new defensive end J.J. Watt in that group.
Watt, who asked for his release from the Houston Texans in February before announcing his decision to sign with the Cardinals on the first day of March, admitted he had coincidentally been working with the Tillman Foundation for "six-plus months" on a project that he "can't fully share the details yet."
The former NFL safety who left professional football to serve in the U.S. Army before being killed while on active duty has left a posthumously enormous impact on the lives of those in and around the sport.
"We've been working with Marie Tillman and the Tillman Foundation on a very cool project that'll be coming in the next few months," Watt said at his introductory Cardinals press conference on Tuesday. "It's kind of coincidental how all this worked out and I'm very excited to share that with the people of Arizona, too.
"The reason that I decided to work with the Tillman Foundation on this project months back was because — every year I try and do at least one thing with the military because of how grateful and thankful that I am for their service. I truly believe that they're the ones that deserve the amount of praise and fame that we as athletes get because they're the ones that protect us and protect our freedoms and give us the opportunity to play this game for a living. This year I chose Pat just because of what he means."
In November of 2020, Watt took part in the annual Pints 4 Pat celebration where Tillman Scholars and others in support of his foundation drink a pint of Guinness beer, Tillman's favorite according to Marie, and reminisce about stories and share details about who inspires them. Although the event was virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, Watt shared a video of him kicking off the festivities.
"Not only does Pat Tillman inspire me, but my grandfather inspires me," Watt said at the time. "He's no longer with us, but he fought in the Korean War. He was extremely passionate and positive and always was a shining light for us, so this pint is for Pat, this pint is for Grandpa Watt and here's to you guys all out there. I appreciate you, thank you to everybody who sacrificed and to all the Tillman Scholars."
Tillman played four years for the Cardinals from 1998-2001 and was inspired to enlist in the military after the terrorist attack against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Now that Watt has a chance to sport the same colors as who he considers a real American hero, he said he is not taking the opportunity for granted.
"I've obviously long been a fan of Pat Tillman, just what he stood for, who he was and everything about his legacy is unbelievable to me," Watt said. "To be here, to be walking the same halls that he walked and to see his locker today was special for me."