Tribute to Tillman

Tribute to Tillman

This tribute to Charles “Peanut” Tillman was originally published in September of 2014, a few days after he played his final game for the Chicago Bears. When author Aldo Gandia posted it on twitter, Mr. Tillman wrote back expressing his appreciation. It’s another mark of a truly class man. 

It’s almost poetic that it happened this way. The warrior who fights for good, never quite reaches the ultimate prize and is forced to leave the battle field, harmed in body, but never in spirit.

That’s the way Charles “Peanut” Tillman’s NFL career appeared to end Sunday night at San Francisco’s state-of-Silicon Valley stadium in a match against the 49ers.

Tillman tore a triceps muscle last November at Soldier Field and missed the last eight regular season games. This weekend, it was the same muscle, the same injury, but not the same result. Tillman is likely to not only miss the rest of the season, but almost certainly forced to retire from the sport.

Bears General Manager Phil Emery knew the 33-year-old Tillman’s career was coming to an end and selected his successor with the team’s first-round draft choice, Kyle Fuller. The rookie immediately stepped into Tillman’s cornerback position and did what Peanut had become so famous for, turned the ball over to the offense.

When Tillman suffered the injury in the second half of the game he went to the sideline and minutes later doctors confirmed his worst of fears. His tears told the story.

Charles Tillman

 

Monday, the Bears placed the 12 year veteran on the season-ending injured reserve list.

The two-time Pro Bowler had started 156 games in his career, the third-most in Bears history. Football historians will be hard-pressed to name a Chicago Bears cornerback better than number 33. He was drafted in 2003 in the second round out of Louisiana-Lafayette college. That team lost many more games than they won, but Tillman and fellow cornerback Ike Taylor were standouts. Then Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo had his choice of the two and picked the six foot-two inch, 190 pound Tillman to play one of the toughest positions in all of sports.

Tillman impressed the team immediately with his raw skills. But, it was a year later, when Angelo hired Lovie Smith as the team’s head coach, that Tillman would begin to convert those raw skills into the best cornerback the Bears would ever field. Smith had refined the so-called Tampa Cover-2 defense that saw two safeties play the deep part of the field while the cornerbacks jammed the receivers, kept their eyes on the quarterback, and focused on any run plays or passes out to the flats.

For Tillman it was like fitting him with a custom-made suit from one of Michigan Avenue’s finest tailors.

But, Tillman would also go step-for-step with wide receivers. He never possessed elite speed, but his coverage skills, instincts and smarts made him a reliable one-on-one defender. Lovie Smith learned he could trust Tillman to do something most corners in the NFL were incapable of doing: play tough, physical defense on any of the premier wide receivers in the game.

Ask Randy Moss.

Or ask Calvin Johnson or any of the other great wide receivers Tillman battled against.

Charles Tillman

You can also ask running backs about Tillman’s run-support. They will concur with Chicago football fans, Tillman was among the best.

And, of course, everyone with the ball in their hands was well aware of the Peanut Punch. It became the signature tactic to Tillman’s defensive strategy.

Tillman would become the Bear’s all-time leader in defensive touchdowns (nine), including a team-record eight interception returns. But, for some reason, Tillman’s greatness was often overlooked by the so-called experts. Voted to only two Pro Bowls and honored as an All-Pro only once, might mean some voters will overlook Tillman’s rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, if voters for induction have any sense they will make Tillman a first or second year choice. It’s not only his play on the field that makes him worthy; it is who Charles Tillman is as a man and what he’s done for the NFL with his off-the-field philanthropic efforts.

Charles Tillman

 

Tillman was voted the Walter Payton Man of the Year award  (see video of his emotional acceptance speech here) earlier this year.

NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal listed Tillman’s off the field accomplishments.

Tillman’s Foundation (Cornerstone Foundation) provides pediatric hospital patients with access to iPads, laptops, gaming systems and other kinds of entertainment to help pass the time during their hospital stays and annually reaches more than 370,000 children. His fund has also distributed more than $1 million to over 300 families who have been identified by local organizations as at-risk or in need. The support is provided to families and individuals to strengthen their ability to care for themselves.

Tillman and his wife Jackie also have helped build a school in Cambodia, sponsored children through the Urban Promise program in Camden, N.J., and have purchased and donated more than 700 tickets to Bears home games since 2008 through the Bears’ Home Team Hand-Off program. Tillman also has participated in a USO tour to Iraq, volunteered with the USO of Illinois on Thanksgiving to serve meals to local troops and provided soldiers with tickets to games at Soldier Field during the 2013 season.

This video well worth your time, is an intimate look at the personal reasons that inspired Tillman and his wife to give so much to others. (Have tissue handy.)

 

Here at the Barroom we toast Charles Peanut Tillman, the football player, family man, and humanitarian. You have our everlasting admiration.

Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.


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