Premieres Sunday 9/8c. Watch online previews.
When the Arizona Cardinals take the field on Sunday to square off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, their motivation will lie beyond the 50-plus men on the roster - the Cardinals will be playing for a former teammate who gave his life to serve his country.
Pat Tillman was one of the Cardinals' premiere defensive players in 2001, leading most fans to think they had found a cornerstone of their franchise. But Tillman chose patriotism over professional sports, leaving the NFL (and a multi-million dollar contract) behind to enlist in the U.S. Army to serve in Afghanistan.
However, when Tillman joined the United States Army Rangers and served multiple tours in combat, he was tragically killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan.
And while many of the current Cardinals didn't have the opportunity to play alongside the defensive star, Tillman is still very much on the minds of the players who will wear the Arizona uniform come Sunday.
"We don't really talk about it - it's just a known fact. Everyone on this team has seen the things Pat stands for. I really do believe a lot of the things Pat stood for resonate throughout this organization," said Adrian Wilson, one of only two players on the current Cardinals roster who played with Tillman. "For him, just as a man, to be able to make the decision that he did, it speaks volumes to his character and the type of person that he was."
A statue of Tillman now lives outside the Cardinals' home field in Glendale, Ariz., but the spirit of the former pro has carried with the team all the way to Tampa - and a Super Bowl win would be just another way the team is able to honor their fallen teammate.
"A former player, especially of his stature, is always going to be in the back of your mind because of what he did for the team," said Arizona rookie Brandon Keith. "He is still one of the Arizona Cardinals, so to get this win would be a great way to honor Pat."
Speaking with the Cardinals, it is clear the imagery of Tillman extends beyond the statue emblazoned outside of the University of Phoenix Stadium, which the Cardinals call home - the memory of Tillman also lives throughout the team's headquarters.
"He's definitely still with us," linebacker Monty Beisel said. "His picture hangs in our training room and we see his picture everyday. We try to play with that same passion that Pat played with in Arizona."
And while the team recognizes all of the tributes to Tillman around their stadium, the best way to honor a man described as a true American hero would be a win on Sunday in the Super Bowl.
"It would be great [to get the win on Sunday]," Wilson added. "You know all the stars are lined up if that happens."