TEMPE, Ariz. — The walls around Sun Devil Stadium and the new football complex are lined with photos of Pat Tillman. Images of the former player and Army Ranger can be found across the campus and around town, too.
Now there’s a bronze likeness of perhaps the greatest Sun Devil in school history.
Arizona State unveiled a bronze statue of Tillman during a ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium on Wednesday, a monument designed as a tribute to the man who gave so much and as inspiration to the players trying to follow his footsteps.
“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Tillman’s brother, Kevin, said before the drape was dropped. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”
The ceremony, held in the redesigned football facilities in the north end zone, drew several hundred people, including Tillman’s family, former and current ASU players and university officials.
Tillman played at Arizona State from 1994-97 and went on to play for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals before walking away from a multimillion contract to serve his country in wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Tillman became an Army Ranger in 2003 and served until being killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.
Current Sun Devils coach Todd Graham has embraced Tillman’s spirit and his family during his six years at Arizona State, making sure every player knew the impact he had. He also made sure every wall in the redesigned football complex included at least one photo of the man who never backed down from a challenge.
The players see an image of Tillman at the end of the tunnel where they enter the field and said the Sun Devils will now start a tradition of touching the statue before taking the field.
“One of the reasons Pat is on every wall is he earned to be on every wall,” Graham said. “He embodied what we are about. We’re trying to teach guys to win and be a champion in life, and that’s what we’re here to celebrate. That’s what Pat’s life was all about.”
Tillman touched the lives of everyone he came in contact with, a free-spirited deep thinker who challenged himself and others to always strive for greatness.
His impact while he was alive and after his death was evident during the ceremony, when many of his former teammates showed up and dozens of current ASU players came to watch the unveiling of his likeness.
“What’s really cool now, is at 43, I can look back to 19, 20 and my mind is able to fully appreciate that I literally was in the presence of somebody who had qualities of greatness inside,” said Barry Alford, Tillman’s friend and former teammate. “I got to watch those qualities of greatness unfold in front of my eyes.”
Now Alford and anyone else who visits Sun Devil Stadium can see Tillman’s likeness in bronze.