Mourners Honor Tillman in Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. – A steady stream of mourners arrived outside Arizona Cardinals headquarters Saturday, leaving Army mementos and football memorabilia to honor Pat Tillman (search), the first professional football player in more than three decades to die in combat.
Tillman, who gave up a career in the NFL to join the elite Army Rangers (search), died Thursday when his patrol was ambushed near the Afghan-Pakistani border. He was 27.
On Friday, the Cardinals set up a table in front of their headquarters with Tillman's jersey in a glass frame. In front was a poster showing Tillman in uniform on bended knee on the sidelines.
The tribute grew through the night and Saturday.
An old, flat-brimmed Ranger hat was placed alongside a copy of "The Ranger Creed." At the bottom of the document, someone had written, "Ranger Tillman, see you in heaven."
There was a well-worn pair of combat boots, a box full of medals and a beanbag football.
Inside Cardinals' headquarters, the team was proceeding with Saturday's NFL draft. Team management wore black lapel ribbons, as did NFL officials at draft headquarters in New York City.
"Pat Tillman personified the best values of America and of the National Football League," said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue (search). "Like other men and women protecting our freedom around the globe, he made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life for his country."
Billy Shaw, a former guard for the Buffalo Bills, said Tillman's death reminded him strongly of his own former teammate Bob Kalsu, who was killed by North Vietnamese mortar fire in 1970.
"What a tremendous character makeup both of these individuals had to put their careers on hold to defend our country," Shaw said.
There was no public word from Tillman's family Saturday.
Tillman had married his high school sweetheart, Marie, just before he told the Cardinals in May 2002 that he was leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers with his brother Kevin, then a minor league baseball player in the Cleveland organization.
Although Tillman never publicly offered reasons for his decision, several friends have said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks affected him deeply.
The military released a few more details of Tillman's death.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers (search) said he died Thursday evening near Sperah, a village about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.
After coming under attack, Tillman's patrol left their vehicles and pursued the attackers, then were ambushed. The sustained fighting lasted 15 to 20 minutes, Beevers said.
Beevers would not say what Tillman's unit — the Army's 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — was doing when it was attacked, but he described service with the Rangers as "one of the most demanding assignments anywhere in the military."