Tillman’s legacy to live on through foundation

By Brian Gomez

Killed in combat in Afghanistan five months ago, Pat Tillman is not forgotten.

The Army Ranger’s legacy is being carried forward through displays at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.

There was a tribute to him Sept. 19 at halftime of the Arizona Cardinals’ season opener against the New England Patriots. ASU plans to retire Tillman’s No. 42 jersey and place his name in its Ring of Honor during the Nov. 13 game against Washington State.

And the NFL recently announced that replicas of Tillman’s No. 40 Cardinals jersey have been made available to the public.

Then there’s the newly formed Pat Tillman Foundation, still determining its specific goals and unsure about its long-term future but steadfast in its mission.

The foundation, under the direction of Alex Garwood, Tillman’s brother-in-law, is in the process of partnering with local and regional educational institutions, with hopes of identifying a broader national scope by 2006.

Tillman’s family has received more than 500 cash donations and countless mementos, including Purple Hearts, combat boots, American flags and handwritten cards and letters. However, it has no immediate plans to use the money or display the items.

That’s where the non-profit foundation comes in play.

“We believe in what we’re doing, and we’re going to carry Pat’s legacy forward,” Garwood said. “But we’re making sure we’re carrying Pat’s legacy forward in the right manner.”

Garwood isn’t interested in books or movies featuring Tillman, who declined all interview requests after walking away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the Army with his brother Kevin.

He wants Tillman, 27, to be remembered, although he’s intent on being tasteful.

“Anything that’s worthwhile is never easy,” Garwood said. “It’s important to be thoughtful on how we do this because that’s how Pat approached things. We can’t be haphazard or quick to rush things just because it’s easy.”

Garwood said he’s still receiving checks, some for large amounts and others for nothing more than pocket change. It’s the smaller checks that often cause a knot in his throat.

“You get a feeling that it’s from a little kid,” said Garwood, who recently received a donation from a 10-year-old whose family gave to the Pat Tillman Foundation in lieu of birthday presents.

“I’m continually amazed and impressed by the impact Pat has had, not only in California (his home state) and Arizona, but everywhere. We knew he was incredible and that he was an amazing person, but I didn’t imagine the impact that he has had nationwide and all over the world, for that matter.”

Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who played against Tillman at the University of Arizona, understood the importance of Tillman’s contributions well before last week’s halftime ceremony.

“He’s an American hero in my mind, for what he did and for the sacrifices that he made,” Bruschi said. “Without the tribute, I know what kind of sacrifice he made. I was proud to wear the 40 on my helmet.”

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady echoed Bruschi’s sentiments.

“What he gave to this country and the sacrifices that he made gives everybody a great example of what a hero his is,” Brady said. “He is the type of person you should look up to. What we do by playing football doesn’t hold a candle to what he did in his life, and the actions he chose.”

To make a donation to the Pat Tillman Foundation, visit www.pattillmanfoundation.net or write to P.O. Box 20053, San Jose, CA, 95160. Donations to the Pat Tillman Scholarship Fund can be sent to ASU Foundation, Attn: Lynda Lumpkin, P.O. Box 873208, Tempe, AZ, 85287-2505.