In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams.
Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. In August, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.
An overachieving, outspoken, fiery linebacker for ASU and safety for the Arizona Cardinals, Pat Tillman already was larger than life as a football player.
Then he joined the Army Rangers in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, giving up a multimillion-dollar deal from the Cardinals and, eventually, his life.
Tillman was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 in what the military initially called an enemy attack but was later found to be friendly fire, sparking a massive controversy over the cover-up and handling of his death.
The part of Tillman's story that happened in Arizona, as impressive as it may be, was far more conventional. Simply put, Tillman made the most of his abilities on the field and in life.
A two-way player at Leland High School in San Jose, Calif., Tillman was given ASU's final scholarship in 1994. But he made a huge impact at linebacker, known for hair flying out of his helmet and his passion. He became the Pac-10's defensive player of the year in 1997. He also earned a 3.82 GPA and graduated in 3 1/2 years.
But, considered a step slow and a bit small entering the 1998 NFL draft, Tillman wasn't taken until the seventh round by the Cardinals. Arizona gave him a signing bonus of $21,000.
Once again, though, Tillman made the most of the opportunity. He moved to safety and played well enough that the St. Louis Rams offered him a five-year deal worth $9 million in 2001 but he turned it down because of loyalty to the Cardinals.
In 2002, though, he left the Cardinals in a stunningly unusual decision for a contemporary pro athlete. Arizona offered him a three-year contract that spring, but Tillman opted to join the Army instead.
Two years later, he was dead.
His story, too big to tell in short form, has been rendered in songs, movies and books, an unforgettable, if tragically short, journey.
Hometown, age at death
San Jose, Calif., 27
He said it
"My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, and a lot of my family has … gone and fought in wars, and I really haven't done a damn thing as far as laying myself on the line like that." - Tillman, on Sept. 12, 2001.
On StarNet: See the archive of Sports Centennial articles at: azstarnet.com/sportscentennial