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The measure of a true hero

By Doug Gorman

Sports fans often get into the habit of hero worship.

Men such as Barry Bonds, Michael Vick, and Tracy McGrady are turned into god-like figures because of their athletic ability

We idolize these men and admire them for the multi-millions of dollars they have accrued simply because they have been blessed with the ability to play their sport at a high level. Even if an athlete has a character flaw, we still regard him as successful because he drives a fancy car or lives in a 30-room estate.

Wealth seems to be a measuring stick for success. As sports fans, we often act as if these men are war heroes. We use words like battle and combat to describe their past or upcoming games.

Patrick Tillman could have lived the lifestyle of a high-paid professional athlete. He could have had women in every NFL port, and he could have lived in a fancy house and drove a custom built sports car. Those are often the perks for making a living as a professional athlete.

But Tillman's main focus in life had noting to do with hunting down opposing quarterbacks. Tillman was more interested in tracking down terrorist who are a threat to our country's way of life.

The former member of the Arizona Cardinals left millions of dollars on the table when he scrubbed his football career to enlist in the Army.

Tillman was so touched by the events of 9-11 he felt a personal responsibility to join the military in an effort to preserve freedom; some thing he valued far more than the glamour of playing in the NFL.

The former professional football player had already survived a tour of duty in Iraq when he was gunned down last week after his unit was ambushed in Afghanistan.

I had never heard of Tillman until about two years ago when word leaked out that he was leaving the NFL for a stint in the military.

His patriotic views were more in line with World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor sent the United States into war in the Pacific than with today's view of military service. In that era several celebrities did their part to defend the country. Ted Williams missed several years with the Red Sox to fly combat missions in World War II and Korea.

Tillman never wanted to be in the spotlight. After stepping away from football, going through basic training, and joining the elite Rangers unit, the 27-year-old Patriot declined all interviews.

In his mind, he was just another solider in the trenches.

My first reaction when Tillman decided to join the Army was wow: here is a special young man.

I often wondered what had happen to Tillman? I was positive he was carrying out his mission with the same passion he displayed on the football field. The former Arizona State walk-on and seventh-round NFL draft pick made himself a good player because of his solid work ethic. I'm sure he was a good solider for all the same reasons.

My heart sank last week when I turned on CNN and learned off Tillman's fate.

About 48 hours later, the next generation of football players were welcomed to the NFL family as the league carried out its annual draft.

Some players became quick millionaires.

They will be idolized, worshipped and followed by groupies who will latch on to them hoping for a handout.

But they are not heroes. Pat Tillman and the hundreds of other faceless shoulders who have died defending this country are heroes.

After all, football basketball and baseball are just games.

War really is about life and death, and Tillman and his fallen brothers paid the ultimate price.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. E-mail at dgorman@news-daily.com)