Family, ex-teammates on hand for ceremony

Updated: November 13, 2004, 11:40 PM ET
Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was among about 50 former Arizona State teammates of Pat Tillman who gathered Saturday night to help the school retire the fallen soldier's No. 42 jersey in a halftime ceremony.

Members of Tillman's family were also on hand for the second such tribute at Sun Devil Stadium, during Arizona State's home finale against Washington State. The NFL's Arizona Cardinals retired Tillman's jersey at their home opener on Sept. 19.

"He would be the first one to appreciate us all having a beer on his behalf," Plummer said at a pregame gathering. "We're all here paying tribute to him because we loved him dearly, and we miss him."

The Military Order of the Purple Heart -- made up of those wounded in battle -- presented its initial Pat Tillman Patriot Award to his widow, Marie, as the Arizona State band spelled out USA.

The former teammates, some of them in tears, formed a half-circle at the 42-yard line as the Arizona State band formed the number 42 and a framed jersey was unveiled. Washington State players wore a "PT 42" decal on their helmets.

Kevin Tillman, who enlisted in the Army Rangers with his brother after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, watched the ceremony from a suite.

Before the game, four Apache helicopters flew over the stadium, one pulling away from the group over the football field in tribute.

After the contest, a 45-28 Arizona State victory, the team presented the Tillman family with the game ball.

Tillman was the fifth player whose jersey was retired by the school. The others were Danny White, Bobby Mulgado, Wilford "Whizzer" White and Mike Haynes.

Plummer and Tillman were teammates on the 1996 Arizona State team that went 11-0 in the regular season and lost to Ohio State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl. The pair also played together with the Cardinals for five seasons before Tillman shocked everyone by turning down millions of dollars to join the Army Rangers.

"Like any other thing Pat did, you just shrug your shoulders and shake your head and say, 'Wow,'" Plummer said. "I knew about it early. It's one of those things, he had his mind set and you just wish him well."

Tillman survived a tour of duty in Iraq. He was killed, apparently by friendly fire, while on patrol in Afghanistan in April. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Purple Heart.

Tillman, an academic all-American, graduated summa cum laude in 3½ years with a degree in marketing. He was a three-time all-conference linebacker and the 1997 Pac-10 defensive player of the year, an award that now bears his name. Undersized at that position for the NFL, Tillman switched to safety with the Cardinals.

Plummer defied NFL rules for several weeks by wearing Tillman's No. 42 decal beyond the one game it was allowed. Plummer, whose Broncos have a bye this weekend, said he enjoyed seeing his former teammates.

"It's bittersweet because we're here for something bad," Plummer said. "We lost a great person."

Hundreds of Tillman jerseys were worn by fans at the game. Proceeds for sales of the Tillman jerseys by Arizona State and the Cardinals go to the Pat Tillman Foundation, established by the family to promote leadership and public service.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press