NEW YORK — Pat Tillman, killed Thursday in a firefight in Afghanistan, never wanted attention for his decision to walk away from the NFL in 2002 to join the Army Rangers. He told friends he didn't want praise for what thousands of other men and women do without fanfare.
A poignant reminder of that came Friday -- around the time Tillman's death first made national news -- when June Almanzar, who worked in the NFL mailroom, informed his co-workers that he had been activated by the Army and is expected to be shipped to the Middle East.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue pointed to Almanzar as another example of someone willing to put his life at risk for the cause of freedom.
Reminders of Tillman were everywhere at the draft Saturday. Flanked by five U.S. Marines, each of whom had served in Iraq, Tagliabue hailed Tillman as a hero in his opening remarks at Madison Square Garden.
To the side of the draft stage was a framed Tillman jersey -- along with the original "draft card" the Arizona Cardinals used to select him in 1998. Next to that was a picture of him in his Cardinal uniform. The crowd periodically broke into a "U-S-A" chant.
The league distributed hundreds of black ribbons bearing Tillman's name and number to its employees at the New York office, as well as the team representatives in attendance.
"It puts in perspective everything we're doing and the type of man that he was," said Iowa tackle Robert Gallery, the No. 2 pick by Oakland, whose father fought in Vietnam. "It was definitely a sad day for football and our country, but he's a guy who is truly a hero to everybody here."
-- Sam Farmer