A little more than a dozen years ago one of the most profoundly selfish actions ever witnessed on a football field took place in New York during a Giants and Arizona Cardinals game. Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica celebrated a routine field goal from 43 yards out, making it 3-0 Cardinals. We who remember the brothers Gramatica's celebrations in those days remember that they were over the top. Making a 43 yard field goal was not worthy of any personal celebration, but that did not stop Bill Gramatica. He began to jump around like he and his brother sometimes did in those days, and he tore his acl right there on the field while celebrating his own greatness, during a 3-0 game in the first quarter. Now his team was left without a kicker.
What happened next is memorable to me on this Memorial Day weekend recently gone by. Being a Giants fan, and not liking how the Gramatica's celebrated during the game for simply doing their job, I was just laughing my ass off that he had gotten hurt while celebrating himself for no reason. Normally it is bad manners to applaud a sports injury, but this time it was fair play.
So the Cardinals had no one to kick off following the made field goal. Gramatica would be able to hit a field goal from 23 yards out later in the game, along with an extra point, but he could not kick off. At the time my reaction to the guy who took the responsibility on his own shoulders to take one for the team and handle the kickoff was different than it would be now.
When I noticed who stepped in for the injured kicker, a position player, I was a little disgusted. He was the type of player who had to be everything all the time, the type of guy who you hate unless he is on your team, then you love him. Pat Tillman had just turned 25 years old the month before he kicked off for his injured team mate in what would be the fourth to last football game of his life. It was a bad kickoff, but the Giants didn't return it very far and the game went on.
At the time the point of what was happening escaped me, Tillman taking that responsibility when he was no better suited to try than any of the other 50 guys on the team. Tillman was a 'johnny bravo' kind of football player if he wasn't playing for your team. There was the element of selfishness at times in his game but it was usually in the name of winning for the team. Like someone who knows whomever slay the dragon gets the glory may grab the sword and make the attempt, knowing that the odds are slim but someone had to try. Maybe he wasn't the best guy for the job, but he was the first guy to grab the sword. Selfish in a way that he wanted to be 'the guy' but admirable that he was willing to be the one who took the shot and put himself out there. On the football field, Tillman was a courageous and valiant warrior, I witnessed that with my own eyes.
Much has been made of the events surrounding Pat Tillman's death, I don't know much about that other than he died fighting for our country during a war. On Memorial Day weekendish, a group of football fans such as ourselves can admire that he gave up football, and ultimately his life, to fight for our country following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
Oftentimes there is a tendency to overstate the accomplishments of Pat Tillman because he died in battle and was a public figure. It can be patronizing to make his sacrifice any more significant than others who have lost their lives fighting for our country who were not professional football players. Having seen the courage and valor that Tillman displayed on the football field, it is easy to imagine he was the same way on the battle field. Having heard of the courage and valor of many other good Americans who have lost their lives defending our country on the battle field, it is easy to believe that they would have been valiant on the football field given the chance.