There was a reason Jake Plummer gave the official induction speech for former Cardinals teammate Pat Tillman Thursday night as Tillman was put into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame -- Tillman's brother Kevin was dealing with the emotions of the moment.
But Kevin Tillman came on stage following Plummer's remarks at Scottsdale Plaza Resort, and while he warned he was afraid he might break down, delivered his own thoughts on his late brother.
"Pat was 17 when he left the house," said Tillman, who served in the Army with his brother Pat before Pat was killed in action in 2004. "From the time he left California, he was playing in the same football stadium (Sun Devil Stadium) from the time he was 17 until he was 25. ... He was in the same stadium for eight years. He passed away when he was 27. So his whole adult life was kind of played out here in Arizona in front of everybody.
"The state of Arizona and the institutions of ASU, the Cardinals and the fans provided a platform for him to grow. He was big in growing his character in every facet ... and I think getting this award from the state of Arizona, I think he'd be extremely flattered."
Joining Pat Tillman in the Class of 2018 were former Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, former University of Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea, Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., Xavier Prep golf coach Sister Lynn Winsor, and former Chaparral High School softball coach Jeff Oscarson.
Pat Tillman joins three others with Cardinals ties in the Hall -- owner Bill Bidwill, Plummer and former safety and current scout Adrian Wilson.
The Hall honors athletes, coaches and others who have made significant contributions to sports in the state. Inductees must meet one of three criteria: Be an Arizona native, be immediately recognized as an Arizonan, or have made at least two significant contributions to Arizona’s athletic community.
Tillman was a California native, but he played college football for Arizona State University before playing four seasons with the Cardinals as a seventh-round draft pick. He totaled three interceptions before shocking the world in the 2002 offseason by walking away from a multi-million dollar contract offer to join the Army Rangers. Tillman fought in the Middle East, and was in a second tour of duty with the military when he was killed in April of 2004 -- the day before the Cardinals drafted wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
"He would say no, honors don’t matter, but I know too well that he didn’t mind a little bit of the attention," Plummer said before the ceremony. "I am sure he would be very proud of this, not being from here but still going into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame and being very deserving of it. Regardless of what happened to his life off the field, what he did as a Sun Devil and a Cardinal pretty amazing. Pat was involved in two of the biggest sports years for each of those organizations (A 1998 playoff berth with the Cardinals, a 1996 Rose Bowl with ASU.)
"He would be honored and tickled. I’d love to hear him give a speech. It’s too bad he can’t, so I’ll fill in for him."
A handful of former Tillman teammates were on hand, including ex-safety Kwamie Lassiter, ex-wide receiver MarTay Jenkins and ex-defensive lineman Michael Bankston.
But it was Plummer, who was close to Tillman both at ASU and with the Cards, who once again was asked to speak on Tillman's behalf.
"It’s a heavy burden to bear, kind of, because people ask me, 'What would Pat say' or 'What would he think?' " Plummer said. "Maybe I’m not the person to ask. I try never to really put words that Pat would say out there because we never really knew what Pat would say. He always was thinking outside of the box, or maybe say something just to get a reaction what he would think.
"The main thing is, with things like this, it’s kind of a self check of myself and where I am at in my life. Just to challenge myself to be better, to be creative, to be genuine, and to be real, like so many others who are inspired by his legacy."
We take time to honor a great Cardinal and a great American, Pat Tillman.