Super Bowl Cardinals
Have an Extra Man on the Field

When the Arizona Cardinals take the field in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII, in their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, there will be an extra player on the field. You won't see him, but he'll be there nevertheless. And he'll play the entire game with his Cardinals.

His presence was felt as the Cardinals posted a surprising win in their playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, a game in which everything seemed to be in the Cardinals' favor. And his presence will no doubt be felt in Tampa, as the Cardinals, playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in team history, square off against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team making its seventh Super Bowl start and hoping for its sixth Super Bowl win.

Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals player who became a hero when he walked away from an NFL career to enlist and become an Army Ranger.  Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.The extra Cardinals player on the field, of course, will be superstar and hero Pat Tillman, the patriot who suspended his NFL career and shocked fans when he walked away from a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals to become an Army Ranger. He enlisted in the Army along with his younger brother, Kevin, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Tillman is likely the most famous Cardinals player in the history of the team.

After serving one tour in Iraq and returning home for a brief time, Tillman was encouraged to leave the Army and return to his NFL career. Instead, he volunteered to deploy again, and was sent to Afghanistan. Tragically, Pat Tillman was killed by "friendly fire" (can there be such a thing?) while on patrol in Afghanistan in April of 2004.

Just before leaving for the Army, Tillman married his high school sweetheart, like thousands of soldiers before him. Tillman's widow, Marie, is expected to attend the game as a guest of the Cardinals.

Many claimed that Pat Tillman became a hero when he died in uniform, fighting for freedom for the Iraqi and Afghan people, and helping to secure the liberty and safety of every American. But they are wrong. Pat Tillman was a hero long before that.

Pat Tillman was already a hero on the football field, where his indomitable spirit made him a team inspiration. He became a national hero not when he died, but when he put his NFL career on hold and turned away from a multi-million dollar salary offer, to become an enlisted soldier wearing the uniform of the United States of America.

Pat Tillman became a national hero standing up for what he believed in, and fighting for all of us to have the freedoms we enjoy today, including watching the NFL on a Sunday afternoon. (For that service, Tillman, who was promoted to Corporal posthumously, would have been paid an annual base salary of roughly $18,000. Even with allowances and special pays, his total salary was likely far less than $30,000.)

The Pat Tillman USO Center at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, named in honor of the fallen Army Ranger who walked away from an NFL career to serve his country.  A true hero.There will also be a very special audience for this game. Super Bowl XLIII will be broadcast to more than 230 countries, to a potential worldwide audience of more than 1 billion viewers, including military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The special video linkup will allow soldiers in Afghanistan to watch the game from the Pat Tillman USO Center that was built in his honor at Bagram Air Base with funds donated by the NFL. Another group of soldiers will watch the game from FOB (Forward Operating Base) Tillman, in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, close to the place where Pat Tillman gave his life in defense of freedom.

So as the pre-game festivities of Super Bowl XLIII come to an end, after the national anthem and the fly-over by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and just before General David Petraeus makes the ceremonial coin toss, say a prayer of thanks for the life and service of Pat Tillman, and for all those men and women defending our freedom and our American way of life around the globe, and for their families. And don't forget to also say a prayer for the safety of the players in the game.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "[The NFL] feels that the 70,000 fans attending the Super Bowl this year should be cheering louder for the military than the two teams playing," he said. "It is, indeed, very important for the NFL to look for every opportunity to support the troops."

The Cardinals are definitely the underdogs in this matchup, and that's a role that suited Pat Tillman just fine. Often considered "too slow to be a great safety, and too small for an NFL linebacker," Tillman was a fierce and determined player, known for hard hits. He was also grateful for the opportunity he was given when the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the seventh round of the 1998 draft, the 226th player chosen.

In 2001, Tillman turned down a higher salary offer from St. Louis to stay with the Cardinals, out of a sense of loyalty to the Cardinals for giving him the opportunity to play a position for which he was considered too small. The St. Louis quarterback at the time? A guy named Kurt Warner, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl that year, where they lost to the New England Patriots in the final seconds of the game. Warner had previously led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in 1999, when he was named both league MVP and Super Bowl MVP, only the sixth player in NFL history to earn both titles the same year.

We know Pat Tillman will be on the minds of Cardinals players and fans, and we have no doubt he'll be right there in the stadium, continuing to inspire the Cardinals, whose 2008 season embodies Tillman's spirit. They believed in themselves, and by doing so, they achieved so much more than people thought they could.

They've done so largely through the leadership of veteran quarterback Kurt Warner, who has been one of our favorite NFL players since his days with the Rams. And although the Cardinals have never played in the Super Bowl before, Kurt Warner has, and he has the ring to prove it. That experience, combined with Kurt's steadfast leadership in the locker room, will serve the Cardinals well.

Regardless of the final score, the Cardinals have proven themselves winners just by making it to the Super Bowl when no one thought they had a chance.

And Pat Tillman will finally get the chance to go to a Super Bowl on the same team with Kurt Warner.

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