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The Vaughn file: Remembering Tillman

 by Kelly Vaughn
 published on Friday, April 23, 2004


My parents have a photograph of me sitting on their piano. It is 1987 and I am five years old with maroon and gold felt horns on my head. We are at the Rose Bowl and I am certain that I will always be a Sun Devil.

Ten years later, same horns on my head, I watched Pat Tillman-number 42-tackle scores of Ohio State players. Even though the Devils lost their second Rose Bowl, I remember leaving Pasadena wondering who the guy with the long dirty-blond hair was.

I never had a class with him. I never even met him. But I always liked him.

I remember Pat Tillman's loyalty to Arizona and how he turned down a $9 million contract with the Rams to play for the home team. I remember his enlistment in the Army and subsequent refusal to grant any interviews.

After my mother called this morning to tell me Pat Tillman had died, I knew I had to put a "breaking news" story up on the Web site. I knew I had to email the State Press editors to reassure myself it would be covered.

I knew I had to, but I didn't want to.

I don't believe I have ever cried over my keyboard-until today. I've written too many stories about football players arrested for kicking cars or girlfriends, fans gone wild during Monday Night Football and car thefts at ASU. Those stories were semi-important for a few hours or days. This story will be important indefinitely.

I cried, perhaps, because I am selfish. Because I can too easily compare Pat Tillman with my fiancé, who, at any moment, might be activated by the Air Force and deployed to the Middle East. He, too, is 27, and I don't want him to go. It's days like today when I wish I could just watch other journalists do their jobs and pretend I am an accounting major.

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are discussing Tillman now, interviewing Dave McGinnis and trying to find new words for what dozens of other sports commentators have already said: "everyday hero," "sacrifice," and "tragedy."

But there are no new words. I can't express them, nor will Stuart Scott or Tom Brokaw. Tillman was everything the talking heads are saying he was: an all-star player, a patriot and a wonderful, remarkable human being. I disagree with them in terms of one designation, though. There are no such things as "everyday heroes." Heroes are people-soldiers and civilians alike-who put others ahead of themselves any day and every day. They are not so ordinary as "everyday" implies.

In the era of whining Eli Mannings and putrid, mewling Maurice Claretts, players like Pat Tillman are few and far between.

I'm done with the crying for now. You can be certain, though, that I'll tip my horns in silent salute to Pat Tillman during the next ASU game I attend. And I will remember him always as the long-haired, offensive lineman-crunching, maroon and gold-clad number 42.

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