Reflections of Tillman accompany unveiling of bronze statue

A bronze statue of Pat Tillman was unveiled at Sun Devil Stadium. It sits near the Tillman tunnel, and ASU players will touch it as they go onto the field. (photo by Omar Soussi/Cronkite News)

TEMPE — “Somewhere inside, we hear a voice. It lead us in the direction of who we wish to become. But it is up to us whether or not to follow.” — Pat Tillman.

Those words appear on the bronze Pat Tillman statue that was unveiled Wednesday, a day before the 2017-2018 opener for the Arizona State football team at Sun Devil Stadium. The statue stands next to the Tillman Tunnel, which players run through as they head onto the field.

Nearly 200 people attended the unveiling, with guests including friends, family, teammates and members of the Pat Tillman Foundation. The statue was created by artist Jeff Carol Davenport and made to commemorate the legacy of the former ASU and Cardinals player who lost his life in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

“One of the reasons Pat is on every wall is he earned to be on every wall,” ASU coach Todd 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.”

Before the statue was unveiled, several guests spoke, including his brother Pat and roommate and teammate B.J. Alford. They spoke of the man Tillman was, how he lived his life and the examples he left for the next group of Sun Devils.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be him the best possible person he can possibly be,” Kevin said. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was ‘How do I make myself the best person’ in all these different facets of his life, and ASU gave him that opportunity to do that.”

Alford looked back fondly at the time he spent with his roommate.

“I got to watch those qualities of greatness unfold in front of my eyes.” Alford said.

That mindset of chasing greatness help create a drive in Tillman that led him to be a standout at ASU and to be drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round in 1998.

Tillman was celebrated for the sacrifices he made. In 2002, he gave up the game he loved when he decided to join the military after September 11th, walking away from the NFL and the chance to earn millions of dollars.

With the statue next to the new Tillman Tunnel, players have said they will touch it as they run onto the field. The tradition is expected to grow and reach the popularity of Notre Dame players slapping the hand-painted sign that says “Play like a champion today” and Clemson players rubbing Howard’s Rock.

The Tillman statue is one more way for players to remember a man who made important sacrifices.