It was 14 years ago this Sunday that former Arizona Cardinals’ safety and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in action, the victim of friendly fire in Afghanistan. And, as happens every year since then, thousands of people will honor him in Tempe, Ariz., by participating in Pat’s Run, a 4.2-mile run/walk on Saturday.
Nevertheless, every year at this time I keep thinking: Isn’t there something more that should be done? And the answer is: Yes, there is.
Pat Tillman should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Four years ago, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth called for it, saying “If I live to be a million years old, I will never understand why Pat Tillman is not in the Hall of Fame.” Well, others could. In fact there was a pushback … if that’s what you want to call it … with Hall-of-Fame voter Peter King of MMQB arguing reasonably that if Tillman is in the Hall, the 25 other former NFL players and personnel who died in military action should be there, too.
And you know something? He’s right. But so is Collinsworth.
Pat Tillman should be in Canton. And so should the other 25 NFL members who died serving the military. So put them in … and, no, I’m talking about enshrining them with busts. Those are awarded for play on the football fields, not for action on the killing fields. I’m talking about building a room, an exhibit, an extensive display … something … that honors all of them now and forever.
In fact, I can’t believe it hasn’t been done already.
Granted, within a year of Tillman’s death, the Hall had a traveling display and exhibit entitled Pro Football and the American Spirit: The NFL and the U.S. Armed Forces, and it included his U.S. Army Ranger jacket and a jersey worn by him. But that was it. And, yes, I understand there are plans for a relaunch sometime in the future, but nothing is definite.
So let's make it definite. And let's make it permanent. Something, say, in a place that draws millions of people and where they will be reminded what Pat Tillman – and other former NFL players -- sacrificed while serving this country.
Something like ... the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Look, the Hall is in the middle of an $889-million mixed-use development called the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village that it likes to tout as "the most inspiring place on earth." So inspire people. Spend a fraction of that money for a place that honors fallen NFL players.
"I couldn't agree with you more," said Dave McGinnis, Tillman's former head coach at Arizona. "To me, it makes sense. I don't know what negativity there would be to that. In fact, it makes so much sense I believe that, if you presented it, you could get a movement behind that."
Well, then, consider it presented.
When Collinsworth said, “I cannot name one person in NFL history that represents what I would like the NFL to be more than Pat Tillman,” I was with him. I can’t, either. But I can name 25 others that represent what I would like the NFL to be as much as Pat Tillman.
Take former Buffalo Bills’ guard Bob Kalsu, for instance. He was a former All-American at the University of Oklahoma and the Bills’ 1968 Rookie of the Year before leaving for Vietnam. He never came back, killed after eight months of service there.
Then there’s former Cleveland tackle Don Steibrunner. who chose to return to the military after serving a two-year commitment. He could’ve gone back to the Browns, but he didn’t. He pursued a military career and was killed in Vietnam when his plane was shot down.
He was 35.
Now rewind the tape to World War II and former Giants’ star Al Blozis. At 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds, he was too big for the military. But he persuaded the U.S. Army to waive the size limit and joined in 1943. Two years later he vanished in the Vosges Mountains in France when he went to look for a sergeant and private who didn’t return from patrol. He later was confirmed to have died.
Blozis not only was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame; he was a member of the 1940s’ NFL all-decade team, too.
What resonates with all of these individuals is a valor and a commitment that extended far, far beyond the playing fields. They put aside their professions, their families, their interests, their incomes ... everything ... to serve this country, and they paid the ultimate price.
What resonates about Tillman, of course, is that he wasn’t drafted, he wasn’t fulfilling a military commitment and he was fighting a war that most of his countrymen were not. He simply made a choice. He quit the NFL, giving up a multi-million-dollar offer to join the military because … well, because he believed so strongly in standing up for his country following the Sept. 11 attacks.
And he died for that belief.
"The fiber and fabric of all these guys is worthy of being remembered," said McGinnis.
He's right, of course. Pat Tillman, Al Blozis, Don Steinbrunner and Bob Kalsu should be remembered. So should the others who perished in military service because, to paraphrase Cris Collinsworth, each and every one of them represents what I would like the NFL to be.
But they should be more than remembered. They should be recognized. And they can be. All of them. With a permanent home in Canton.