Only Pat Tillman’s inner circle knows the real reasons why he chose the life of an Army Ranger over that of an NFL safety.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks unfolded before Tillman’s eyes on a television screen at the Cardinals’ Tempe complex, the three-year, $3.6 million contract offer that was later placed on his table had no appeal.
"The importance of football ranks zero compared to what happened," Tillman told the Tribune’s Darren Urban while staring at the screen that day. "When you compare it . . . we’re worthless. We’re actors."
Eight months later, Tillman followed his conscience and enlisted in the Army.
"When he finally sat me down (to tell me he was enlisting), there wasn’t extreme shock," former Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. "Everything he did he thought out.
"He had a real sense of commitment and integrity, plus he had a passion and exuberance to everything he did."
Those virtues led family and friends to worry.
"He never played it safe so we feared when he was putting himself in harm’s way,’’ said Robert Setterlund, vice principal for instruction of Leland High School, which Tillman attended in San Jose, Calif.
Despite Tillman’s overwhelming sense of duty, he possessed a genuine modesty that left him bewildered by all the attention his decision received in the media. When he returned from Iraq, Tillman refused to grant interview requests.
When Pat and his younger brother Kevin, who also enlisted, won an ESPY Award for courage last year, their father, Patrick, summed up their reaction.
"They’re pleased, but they’ve never done any of this for show," he said.
Arizona State University associate sports information director Doug Tammaro had dinner with Tillman in Seattle on Jan. 30, a short time before Tillman was deployed to Afghanistan.
"He knew he was going back," Tammaro said. "(but) he had seen combat. It was not something overwhelming to him."
In the end, said Cardinals vice president Michael Bidwill, that fearless resolve is what defined Tillman’s life.
"In sports we have a tendency to overuse terms like courage, bravery and heroes," Bidwill said. "Then someone special like Pat Tillman comes along and reminds us what those terms really mean."