Tomorrow morning is Pat's Run, the annual 4.2-mile race to remember former Cardinal and Arizona State Sun Devil Pat Tillman. It's the sixth annual, and I will be taking part in my fifth straight.
I've recounted a few times my dealings with Pat. Some of the greatest, most blunt comments I have ever gotten were from Tillman. There was the time in Jacksonville at the end of the 2000 season -- a terrible outing in which the Cards were steamrolled with little resistance -- when Tillman had tired of the complaining about a midseason coaching change and said the "we need to show the baby and stop bitching about the pain." There was the time in Washington the following season when Tillman insisted on speaking with reporters after playing in a freezing rain (his lips were blue) after a crushing finale loss that cost the Cards a .500 season.
And there was the time I got to sit next to him here at the team facility on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, watching the Twin Towers collapse and its aftermath, when I asked Pat about the just-starting-season, and he said compared to what was happening, athletes were "worthless. We're actors."
After that season, of course, he joined the Army. And the day before the draft of 2004, the world heard the news: Tillman was killed in action.
So much has been written and said about Pat since that time. He had an ideal, which is why he joined the military. He apparently became disillusioned with the goal of the war, but that didn't stop him from going back to the Middle East even though he could have gotten out of it. And he obviously didn't have to die.
But the spirit of what Tillman was is what we celebrate -- willing to sacrifice personal glory and comfort for what he saw was a greater good. That's what I think about when I'm pounding the four miles of Tempe asphalt every April.