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Sorry ASU, but number 42 belongs to Pat Tillman and no one else

So, we got our first look at an honorable gesture by ASU Football. And I recoiled in horror. Don’t like it. Not one bit. And, ever since that first glance, I’ve been trying to figure out — what’s my problem?

Here’s the happening: during practice this week, Alden Darby is wearing #42. The same #42 that makes every Sun Devil fan — actually, every Arizonan — instantly think of Pat Tillman, who wore it over a decade ago before leaving football and losing his life in combat while defending his country.

Now, it’s on a practice jersey for any Sun Devils player who earns the right.

“We call it PT42, it’s about a person who embodies all the things that he emulated,” said ASU Head Coach Todd Graham. “To earn that jersey is really hard to do. And Alden Darby earned it. Because, every single day, he’s brought it in the classroom and the community. On the field, off the field – I think he’s having an All-Pac-12 season. He’s just been phenomenal. And those are very hard to come by.”

To me, it should be impossible to come by. Never before and never again will there be a Pat Tillman. He was singular, not plural. If anyone ever should’ve worn #1, it was the one and only Pat Tillman. And singular Pat’s jersey should stay — forever. Tillman earned it.

To be clear, as Coach Graham noted about Tillman – “he was not perfect.” No doubt, as someone who attended the same high school and hails from his hometown Almaden Valley (metro San Jose), I knew Pat was most definitely human before he ever earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Academic All-American honors, or became an American hero to many.

But Pat Tillman is no longer captured in a jersey, not even a military camo version, as Darby is sporting. Tillman’s life went way beyond the gridiron and the college experience. In fact, Pat conducted himself in such a way that it made the rest of us examine the manner in which we were leading our own lives. (Not to mention that having the number revived on merely a practice jersey makes me want to break into an Allen Iverson fueled rant.)

Moreover, putting any sort of Tillman jersey on an ASU player simply isn’t fair — to the player. No matter how deserving and humbled he might be.

“I felt proud of myself honestly. I felt really proud of myself,” Darby shared with reporters after becoming the first ASU player to be awarded the PT42 for a practice week. “It just reminded me that hard work and effort really does pay off.”

In this case, it should pay off…with perhaps a PT42 patch on a jersey. Or a PT42 sticker on a helmet. Yes that feels right, more befitting the moment. But then draw the line – in permanent marker.

What’s the difference? A patch or a sticker rides alongside the uniform numeral actually assigned to that player. In a sport where players wear helmets and, thus, can be largely anonymous to the general public, a number becomes their identity.

And in ASU history, the #42 should not bring with it any sort of confusion or clutter. To me, PT42 became the sole property of Pat Tillman the moment he lost his life as an Army Ranger.

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