DAN BICKLEY

Pat Tillman’s great Valley legacy honored by Pat’s Run

Apr 20, 2018, 6:18 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2018, 9:08 am

Sports fans in Arizona fight too many battles. Transients who soil our stadium experience by wearing enemy colors and cheering for the other team. Bars with wall-to-wall televisions, and none of them dedicated to the home teams. Owners that don’t have money, won’t spend money or care less about winning than you do.

We also have the ultimate trump card.

Other states claim more championships. Most have top-shelf ambassadors like Larry Fitzgerald and Shane Doan, who relish their mutual love affair with Arizona. Few have a peer for Kurt Warner, one of the most inspirational stories in history. None can top Pat Tillman, who has two statues and a tunnel in the Valley, and the only athlete ever honored in my home.

If the starting point is an athlete’s passing, has anyone ever influenced society more post-funeral, post-mortem, from the afterlife?

Which Tillman didn’t believe existed, by the way.

The footrace in his honor, Pat’s Run, is an annual reminder of our Great American Hero. A generation of parents have named their children in his honor, turning a surname into a first name (Tillman). His legacy is one of our greatest gifts, who starred at Arizona State (No. 42), made an impact for the Cardinals (No. 40) and died on foreign soil from bullet wounds.

Roberto Clemente is a close contender. The former Pirates’ great recorded his 3,000th hit in his final at-bat of the 1972 season. He died three months later when his cargo plane crashed in Puerto Rico, killing him and four others before they could deliver emergency supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, Jackie Robinson remains a pillar of Major League Baseball 46 years after his death. His memory still reverberates, a celebration of the human spirit.

But Tillman is different. Death is his signature moment. He did what few others could, sacrificing wealth and fame for honor and courage. And for country.

His sincerity was breathtaking.

Tillman was a rebel and an intellectual, the type to jump from roof into pool. He meditated while sitting atop a light tower in Sun Devil Stadium. He would’ve hated how often his image has been used, how his true self was distorted by the military he grew to question. He was fiercely original, even better than most people think. And that’s a mouthful.

When Bill Gramatica famously blew out his knee celebrating an easy field goal, the Cardinals were in a bind. Tillman was the first to volunteer for second-half kickoff duties. Except former head coach Dave McGinnis said it sounded more like a demand. He had a hero complex that drove him to greatness and got him killed.

I have an enormous picture of Tillman hanging on an office wall. He’s tackling some player from Oregon, with calf muscles bulging, with hair that flowed well below his helmet.

He was the greatest of all-time and Arizona’s bad-ass long before he joined the military.

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