Sixteen Years Later, Death of Pat Tillman Continuing to Make Profound Impact

The eternal legacy of former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman lives on 16 years after his life was claimed on a tour in Afghanistan.
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On the anniversary of the Cardinals drafting Pat Tillman on April 18, 1998, we at AllCardinals are bringing this story back.

When evaluating professional prospects, sometimes franchise executives pass over important non-physical attributes.

In the weeks leading up to tomorrow's NFL Draft, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim made sure to emphasize that mantra to his scouting department.

"When we decided to talk about special teams with our scouts, I thought it was only fitting that I rocked one of my favorite jerseys: my old-school throwback Pat Tillman jersey," he said. "Really just to remind me and all of our scouts that when you're looking at these players, particularly special teamers, it's not always about the bells and the whistles and the measurables and the height, weight and speed. It's a lot about the heart. And, certainly, Pat Tillman was the guy who represented that."

Tillman did more than reveal the importance of heart to NFL executives. Much more. He made an immeasurable impact from the first time he took the field to his departure from the NFL for the 75th Regiment of the U.S. Army.

The 22nd anniversary of Tillman's 1998 draft was this past Sunday. It served as an important reminder that even guys who are selected with the 226th pick in the seventh round, and a compensatory selection at that, can insurmountably elevate a program. Because that's what Tillman did. That's who Tillman was.

Today marks another anniversary. A more solemn one. Today, April 22, 2020, marks the 16th year since Tillman was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan. 

"He was a seeker of knowledge," said former quarterback Jake Plummer, Tillman's teammate at Arizona State and with the Cardinals. "He wasn't dull, he constantly strived to make himself better. Part of me hates him for that because he's not here for me to get motivated by. I can't go on a call and say, 'Hey, man, I'm kind of stuck. What can I do?'"

While he cannot turn to his longtime friend for help on a whim, Plummer emphasized the gratitude he feels for knowing someone like Tillman for as long as he did. Especially during some of the most formative years of his short life.

"When you find someone like that and you meet somebody like that, you just count your blessings to have had them in your life for whatever period of time that is," Plummer said. "He keeps me motivated. I just feel lucky to have known him and been a teammate of his both with the Sun Devils and the Cardinals."

Having shared such a close bond with the former Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year — stemming from their time during one of the most special seasons in ASU history (1996 Rose Bowl berth) to winning the Cardinals' first playoff game since 1947 in a 20-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in a NFC Wild-Card game in 1999 — Plummer is often tasked with an impossible feat.

He takes it in stride, though, and tries to emulate the values Tillman would be proud of.

"I'm the go-to sometimes to share stories of Pat and (guess) what would he think, what would he do?" Plummer said. "And, at times, I have to check myself and go, 'I don't know if I should talk about that right now. I'm not being very Pat-like by being lazy and complacent.' That's just what he was about, none of that.

"You can learn a lot from that. Just to trust in who you are, be confident in who you are. I try to honor him as much as I can. I was just lucky to call him a friend and teammate. I miss him dearly."