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NFL, Cardinals will honor former player

10/13/2004 - Arizona Cardinals

DENVER -- Pat Tillman always stood up for what he believed.
His friend Jake Plummer wanted to as well, but officials from the
NFL weren't so keen on letting him.

Plummer relented Wednesday, agreeing to adhere to the league's
dress code and remove a sticker from his helmet that honored
Tillman, who was killed in the war in Afghanistan after quitting
football to join the Army.

"When it comes to honoring Pat, he's bigger than a sticker on
my helmet," Plummer said. "I don't like the fact I can't, but I
understand what the league wants to accomplish with its rules and
regulations."

To soften the blow, the NFL said it would not fine Plummer for
wearing the sticker last Sunday in violation of league rules. Also,
the league agreed to let Plummer tape public-service announcements
honoring Tillman and play them in stadiums nationwide on the
weekend after Veteran's Day.

"We, too, want to continue to keep Pat Tillman's legacy alive,
but ... we have rules regarding personal messages on uniforms that
we needed to apply consistently," the NFL said in a statement.

Tillman, a former teammate of Plummer's at Arizona State and
with the Arizona Cardinals, quit the league in 2002 to join the
Army Rangers. He died in combat in April.

To honor the former safety, all NFL players wore the No. 40
decal on their helmets during the second week of the season. The
Cardinals will wear the decal all season.

Plummer wanted to keep his own tribute going past the second
week. Warned of possible fines by the NFL, Plummer backed down for
the next two games. But against the Panthers last Sunday, the
sticker reappeared. At that time, Plummer said giving up the fight
just didn't feel right, and he agreed to accept whatever fine was
levied and urged fans to donate to the Pat Tillman Foundation.

By Wednesday, the story had gained footing well beyond Broncos
headquarters and the NFL offices. Arizona Sen. John McCain sent a
letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue criticizing the league's
policy. Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard also weighed in.

"I find it disheartening that the National Football League will
penalize a player for honoring a fallen soldier, friend and
American hero," Allard wrote in a letter to the commissioner.

In its statement, the NFL said "we look forward to working
together with" Plummer and announced it has donated $250,000 to
build the first USO facility in Afghanistan, which will be named
after Tillman.

The Broncos will honor Tillman by putting up a big No. 40 logo --
Tillman's number with the Cardinals -- near the play clock on the
north end of the stadium. The team also will run ads on the
scoreboard during games to promote the Tillman Foundation.

"His idea was, `How can I go forward from this?" Broncos
spokesman Jim Saccomano said. "We were looking for a better way.
Everyone felt the same way, that something like this would work."

The NFL has long had a strict uniform policy banning untucked
shirts, unlicensed logos and unapproved decals and signs worn on
uniforms and helmets, regardless of the reason.

A few years ago, Peyton Manning wanted to wear high-top shoes in
tribute to the late Johnny Unitas but was told he couldn't, so he
backed off.

In one of the more famous episodes, Bears quarterback Jim
McMahon played with an Adidas ad plastered on his headband.
Then-commissioner Pete Rozelle told him not to, so McMahon came
back with a headband that said "Rozelle." McMahon was fined.

Plummer, who signed a $40 million contract last year and could
afford any fine levied by the NFL, knew he was walking a fine line
between doing what he believed was right and causing a distraction.

"They had a long-standing friendship and I respect him for the
stance he took," Broncos safety John Lynch said. "You don't want
it to become a distraction, but in life you've got to stand up for
what you believe in, and that's what Jake did."

In the end, Plummer thinks what he's doing now will be a more
effective tribute to Tillman than just slapping a decal on a
helmet.

"It's a terrible feeling that we are having to do this. It's
bittersweet," Plummer said. "The fact we are talking about this
and he has a foundation -- it's a constant reminder that he's not
here with us any more. Now, let's go do some positive stuff in his
name."