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Remembering Pat Tillman 20 Years After His Death

Former Cardinals safety was killed in action in 2004

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The room was the same, where the Arizona Cardinals media relations department is housed still to this day at their facility in Tempe.

On September 11, 2001, the TV tuned to the horrors in New York and Washington D.C., Pat Tillman sat staring at the screen. In May of 2002, it was the room where then-coach Dave McGinnis told a handful of reporters – including myself – that Tillman was about to shock the world by enlisting in the Army Rangers.

And it was in that room in April of 2004 when then-Cardinals vice president Michael Bidwill and center Pete Kendall fought through emotions trying to make sense of the news that had spread quickly early that morning in the Valley from halfway across the world – that Tillman had been killed in action serving in Afghanistan.

A generation – 20 years -- has passed.

The phrase "Never Forget" is used often in these situations; certainly a rallying cry after 9/11. But it also fits Pat Tillman, a man who touched so many lives when he was on this earth and shook many more when he no longer was. His story is important, not because he was a hero -- and he was -- but because of how he approached life and everything around it.

Not once did Tillman claim to be perfect, and no one close to him has either. He was a good football player, not great, who got the most from his athletic gifts and would've carved out a fine NFL career had he stayed with it.

But that day in 2001 -- after he absorbed what had happened when the planes hit, feeling like he could do more -- changed everything.

It changed his path, his story, and ultimately his life.

Tillman never was a guy who wanted to do an interview about himself. He would, but he'd rather not. But find him in the locker room after a game – especially after a loss – and he'd be the first to answer questions. He wanted to be accountable, felt it was his duty.

It's been said many times that Tillman would've rather not had all the attention that has been given to him after his death. That tracks, from the time I was around him. But maybe that's exactly why he has gotten the attention he has, and why marking this date 20 years later, and eventually 25 and 30 years and beyond, is important.

A generation has passed since Tillman was killed. Many young adults today know only of 9/11 the same way they know anything about World War II, and that's through history books. Even fewer know about Tillman and his story, a complicated one with friendly fire but nothing that changes the sacrifice Tillman made.

I happened to be in the room that day Tillman was watching on TV the Twin Towers burn, a moment etched in my mind as the starting point to the rest of Pat Tillman's life. Had he lived, he would've been 48 this year. In death, he is forever 27, a man who did enough in his short time to earn what he has represented to so many for so long.

Never Forget.

Remembering former Cardinals safety and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed in action on April 22, 2004.

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