Three men who guided Pat Tillman to excellence on the gridiron spoke of him Saturday as fathers mourning the loss — and celebrating the life — of a favorite son.
Before an estimated 3,000 onlookers at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium, former Tillman coaches Bruce Snyder, Larry Marmie and Dave McGinnis eulogized the fallen soldier by recalling his standout moments and praising his outstanding qualities.
"He never missed a class, he never missed a practice — I don't think he ever even missed a tackle," former ASU head coach Snyder said.
During the public memorial, Gov. Janet Napolitano, Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and ASU President Michael Crow also paid their respects to the former ASU and Cardinals player who turned down a multimillion-dollar football contract to serve in Afghanistan, where he was killed April 22.
The ceremony opened with a flyby of four U.S. Air Force jet fighters and closed with the release of 27 white doves, one to signify each year of Tillman's life.
Even the football field upon which Tillman played in his college and professional careers became a memorial painted with the words "Pat Tillman," "1976-2004," and the images of ASU mascot Sparky, the Cardinals logo and the U.S. Army Rangers emblem.
Marmie described Tillman as a "simple guy" who preferred fitting in with his peers but stood out because of his unending pursuit of excellence.
"His goal was to be the best he could be at any endeavor," the former Cardinals defensive coordinator said. "It sounds real easy, but actually it's very difficult."
Former Cardinals coach McGinnis, recalled some of the young player's best moments on the football field and spoke of his bravery on the battlefield.
"It is our duty to keep his spirit alive in our world," he said.
McGinnis ended with a blessing not just for Tillman, but for "all the young men and women that protect our freedom," bringing the crowd to a standing ovation.
Napolitano admitted she did not know Tillman and said she felt like Pericles, the ruler of ancient Athens who questioned whether words of praise could do justice to his soldiers' great sacrifices in the war with Sparta.
"He lauded his soldiers for choosing to die resisting rather than to live submitting," Napolitano said of Pericles' famous funeral oration. "He may as well have been talking about modern-day United States and Pat Tillman."
Crow called Tillman a role model because he was an excellent student and a gifted athlete. He said Tillman's decision to join the Rangers was consistent with the values of many sports competitors.
"For athletes, there is no ambiguity," Crow said. "There is winning and there is losing. There is liberty and no liberty."