On Memorial Day, Arizona’s legendary hard-hitting safety Chuck Cecil tweeted this about Pat Tillman, ASU’s tough-as-nails linebacker who became widely known for leaving the Arizona Cardinals to join the military, ultimately losing his life while serving:
The respect was mutual with football.
When Tillman was a rookie with the Cardinals in 1998, he spoke highly of Cecil’s aggressive and fierce style in an interview with me when I covered the Cardinals’ training camp in Flagstaff for The Arizona Daily Star.
Cecil’s name came up when the Cardinals tried to subdue Tillman two days into camp because some of hits bone-jarring hits. Tillman knocked tight end Johnny McWilliams on his backside and aggressively threw down to the turf running backs Ron Moore and Mario Bates (formerly of Amphi High School and ASU).
“Youthful exuberance is good, but it has to be tempered because he is not in college anymore,” former coach Vince Tobin said.
Cecil gained the reputation of being a bone-jarring tackler in the NFL, prompting Sports Illustrated to publish an article titled, “Is Chuck Cecil too vicious for the NFL?”
When asked about that cover, Tillman came to Cecil’s defense.
“I thought it was bull that he was fined for playing his position,” Tillman said. “Intimidating people is part of this game. They should not have tried to hold him back. He was a tough guy. I liked that.”
They were one in the same in football, both overlooked during the recruiting process.
Cecil walked on at Arizona, where he is now a senior defensive analyst on Kevin Sumlin’s staff. Tillman filled ASU’s last scholarship in his class. Cecil gained the reputation of being a heat-seeking missile as a safety. Tillman became known for his no-fear tenacity.
Tillman was a sophomore at ASU when Sports Illustrated ran the article on Cecil. Perhaps blackballed in the league, Cecil was out of football two years later, after playing less than a year with the Cardinals in 1993.
“I respected that guy a great deal. He’s a stud, man,” Tillman said. “I know he went to Arizona and had some big interception way before my time (in 1986), and they ended up beating us.
“I like him despite that.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.