The Backstory: Character, honor and discipline define Sun Devil football. From the moment Todd Graham stepped foot on campus, the new coach preached these values as the cornerstone of the Arizona State program.
As Arizona State fans, we're fortunate to have a proud tradition. Over time, Sun Devil players have contributed to building that tradition, but no player has had the profound impact that today's legend continues to have.
No. 42 unites us. To understand the meaning behind 42 is to understand why Graham demands the most out of his players. To understand 42 is to know why players push themselves to the limit to earn a camouflage practice jersey.
To understand 42 is to understand what it means to be a Sun Devil.
The Player: Pat Tillman (1994-1997)
The story of Pat Tillman's football career is told like a piece of dramatic poetry. Always doubted and forever an underdog, Tillman overcame every naysayer with unparalleled heart and determination.
As a highly productive senior at Leland High School in San Jose, California. Tillman was considered an undersized college prospect. Elite programs steered clear of him, but he was able to secure the final scholarship coach Bruce Snyder could offer.
Upon making the roster, Tillman carved out a role as a workhorse and found playing time on special teams. Despite holding a backup role on defense, Tillman thrived in his limited opportunities and earned Second Team All Pac-10 honors in 1995 as an all-purpose specialist.
When 1996 rolled around, Tillman put himself in the best physical shape of his life (to date) and made his debut as a regular starter. As a driving force on one of Arizona State's best teams in school history, Tillman's physical style of play helped lead the Sun Devils to their second Rose Bowl appearance.
By 1997, Tillman established himself among the best football players in the country. The tenacious outside linebacker had gone from barely holding a roster spot to holding a spot in every offensive coordinator's nightmares.
In his senior season, Tillman led the Sun Devils in tackles with 97, interception with four, and honors with a countless number. Tillman became the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as well as a Second Team All-American. Perhaps most impressively, Tillman took home recognition from the classroom as he received Academic All Pac-10 honors.
Though Tillman's on field dominance caught the eye of the media, it was his down to earth demeanor and world-class work ethic that amazed his teammates. As a team captain in 1997, Tillman served the Arizona State football program in a most meaningful way and his leadership is a tradition carried on through today.
In the Pros: After a prolific collegiate career, NFL teams viewed Tillman with the same regard that college scouts held for him just four years earlier. The "experts" knew he was a proven talent, but they also felt there was no way his size and speed could translate to the next level.
With plenty of chances to watch him play in their backyard, the Arizona Cardinals decided to take a flier on Tillman in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Tillman adapted to the NFL level and took over the Cardinals' starting safety position.
By 2000, the Arizona State alum became an All-Pro after recording 155 tackles and he was entering the prime of his career. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Tillman played out the season before courageously hanging up his jersey and entering the United States Army. In 2004, Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice for the country he loved. Nearly ten years later, we remember Tillman for his commitment, his honor, and most of all, his heart.
Who Wears it Now? Arizona State retired Tillman's No. 42 following his death in 2004.