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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Arizona Cardinals Press Briefing on Death of Pat Tillman

Aired April 23, 2004 - 13:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We take you right now to Phoenix, Arizona, a live news conference with Arizona Cardinals representative Mike Bidwell on the death of one of their players, Pat Tillman.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MICHAEL BIDWELL, ARIZONA CARDINALS: Every day brave men and women are fighting and in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice for this country. And today it has touched our family and it has touched Arizona again. In sports we have a tendency to overuse terms like courage, bravery, and heroes. Then someone special like Pat Tillman comes along and reminds us what those terms really mean.

The Cardinals and the National Football League were privileged to have Pat Tillman in its family, and we're all weaker today following this loss. This has been a terrible day. We learned of this early this morning like many others around the country. Pat was a special guy. The last time we all saw him was in December, when the Cardinals played at the Seattle Seahawks.

Pat called us a few weeks before that game and told us that he was stationed nearby and that he'd like to bring his wife and his brother and some of their family members by to visit. And so he sat with us, with my father and me and others, in the suite.

We've got actually a photo from that day that he sent me. He sent me a card a few weeks after that visit. His wife took that photo. And it was a special day because following the game he went down and visited many of his teammates, and I know everybody was really touched by his visit and the fact that he was doing what he was doing. As I understand it, this was his second time back in combat, and it's a terrible loss for the National Football League and for the Arizona Cardinals.

PETE KENDALL, ARIZONA CARDINALS: Just to echo a lot of what Michael said, a lot of times in football the analogies with war are kind of thrown around freely, and on a day like today you kind of see how hollow those ring. You know, you hear about guys soldiering on through injuries, and that really is -- that's a tough statement to make at a time like this.

I just call myself very lucky to have known Pat and to have played with him for that one year. My thoughts, my prayers go out to his wife, his brother, his family, all the servicemen and women who are making the sacrifice for us every day, and clearly the loss of Pat brings it home to me and to all of us in this room. But every day there are countless numbers of families that are getting the same news and having to go on. And my thoughts go out to them as well.

QUESTION: Michael, if you could talk about Pat, the person that you talked with that night up in Seattle and when he came into the locker room I know that there was a lot of happy faces in talking with you when you came back from Seattle about that night.

BIDWELL: Right. Pat was a special guy, and he was a special guy starting at ASU as a walk-on there, playing four years and really playing himself into getting drafted by the Cardinals. He was determined. He was focused. He was a terrific competitor. He was a fierce competitor. And he was a guy who was committed not just to his family but, as we learned a couple of years ago, committed to this country and to freedom.

He came back and, you know, that day at the game he was happy to be back around football and to take a few hours off to, you know, be back and, you know, watch a game and be around it. It was his first football game he'd been to since playing in the last game in 2002. And you know, he was excited to see his teammates and get down and bond with them for, you know a few minutes after the game. And then, as you know, he wanted to keep a pretty low profile.

So he didn't want to be in front of the media. So he asked that he, you know, could have a few minutes alone with the team and then, you know, exit out a side door before we opened up the locker room to the media.

He was typical Pat Tillman. I mean, the local media here remember Pat and what a great guy he was and how he spoke from his heart. And he was Pat Tillman that day, the same Pat Tillman that we remembered when he was playing.

QUESTION: When he came to you and talked about leaving football and walking away from the contract and enlisting because of the impact of 9/11, can you take me through that and what that was like from the organization's standpoint, to have somebody so convicted in going on and representing their country and walking away from the NFL?

BIDWELL: Well, I guess in a way it was surprising to see, but when you know Pat Tillman and you know how committed a guy he is, it wasn't a surprise to see that Pat felt like, you know, he was going to do something that he was really committed to. And so he did walk away from a very large contract offer that we had out to him and decided to enlist in the Army with his brother Kevin, and do something that was important to him. Because he was special guy.

And again, he is a hero, he is a brave man. There are very few people that have the courage to do what he did, the courage to walk away from a professional sports career and to make the ultimate sacrifice.

QUESTION: Pete, when he walked away from the NFL, what was the feeling amongst the players that one of your teammates was saying no to this to go represent his country? What was the feeling in that locker room when that news came out from Pat? KENDALL: Well, I think the people that knew Pat, the more you knew him the less surprised you were. But to step back and to look at it, for somebody to walk away from several million dollars and a life of relative ease to put his neck on the line, literally for $18,000, $20,000 a year, no guarantee for tomorrow, even the guys I think who knew him well, still you had to be very surprised by that, that somebody would do that.

That's one of those things that's easy to say you might do, but Pat, to the best of my knowledge, is about the only one I know presently in our modern day of athletics that did it. I know it was commonplace back with the Second World War and the Korean War and we hear about it quite a bit back in Boston with Ted Williams. But since then I can't really recall anybody, some NFL players who served in Vietnam, but really, this was sort of out of the blue and totally, totally unexpected, I think, nationally.

But again, the more you knew Pat, the less surprised you were to hear it.

QUESTION: Pete, can you share with what Pat said to the players in the lockers rooms in Seattle?

KENDALL: No, I'm sorry, I can't. I missed when Pat was in there. I had known he was going to be there and having had old friendships to renew in Seattle, I got to the locker room a couple minutes after Pat had slipped out much to my disappointment.

QUESTION: What did you hear from other players about that visit?

KENDALL: Saying that -- Michael said that, you know, Pat was asking more about us and about the game and about the guys more so than talking about himself. And again, having not been there I can't speak for what guys asked him, but I wish I had been there to ask how he was doing and what he had seen. But it doesn't surprise me that he deflected -- or would have deflected the questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell me about how you heard the news this morning and your initial reaction?

BIDWELL: Yes. I heard from our PR staff. And I was getting ready, having flipped on the TV, and it was a kick in the gut to learn of this. And first learned there was a question of whether it was a rumor or whether it was true. And I turned on the television and seen that one of the television networks was confirming it with the Department of Defense.

And I called family members. And it -- this was really rough. And I can tell you that walking around the training facility today, this morning, this is devastating. Pat was a special guy. And you know, it was my hope that he was going to finish his tour of duty and come back and we'd make another offer and have him come back and play for us. And especially seeing him in December, you know, he was a great guy. And all of us that knew him were touched by him. It's an inspiration. He was an inspiration. And he was a special guy. It hurt a lot. QUESTION: Do you know anything else about his second tour? Do you know anything about where he was or anything?

BIDWELL: I just understand from media reports that he was apparently in Afghanistan and that he was involved in combat action there.

QUESTION: Michael, there's been conversation just in the last few hours since this news broke of will the Cardinals do anything to honor his memory?

BIDWELL: Yes. We're going to do several things. The first thing is we're setting up, as we speak, a memorial in front of the facility for fans to come and express sorrow. We're setting up an online memorial for fans and for others to express on azcardinals.com. And we're going to continue to look for other ways to pay tribute to Pat Tillman and for what he stood for.

QUESTION: When you were in the short time with him -- spending that short time with him up in Seattle, did anything come up about, you know, his fears, your fears, just in general being where he was and so close to the action?

BIDWELL: Pat was a courageous person, and he was strong and determined and showed none of that. He was proud of what he was doing, believed in what he was doing. So did his brother Kevin. His brother Kevin believes in that as well. And it's, again, inspirational. And he was inspirational that day. I expressed concern for him, gave him a huge hug when I first saw him and gave him a huge hug when it was time to part ways.

And he -- you know, again, during the game he was a football fan watching a football game and cheering for his teammates and calling out things that they should be doing in the defense and things like that and having a couple of hot dogs and things along those lines. So great memories from that day and sad memories from today.

QUESTION: Did it ever cross your mind that he could be a casualty over there?

BIDWELL: Yes. I mean, it crossed my mind when he first enlisted. I think it crossed everybody's mind. And when he came back safe, I think we were all relieved. I didn't know that he had gone back again until this morning. So it was a concern for everybody.

QUESTION: Did he ever talk about the duration, of how long he intended to serve?

BIDWELL: I think he had signed up for several years and hoped that he could complete his tour of duty and potentially come back and resume a career. You know, I didn't talk specifically about that with him. But I think that there was some feeling that that's what he might do.

QUESTION: How's your father coping with the news, Michael? BIDWELL: He was -- this is one of those phone calls that, you know, you get in the morning that you just never want to get. And he was devastated as well. I think he -- you know, he really appreciated what Pat was doing. My father served in the Navy and understood the decision that Pat had made to join the Army and to join the Rangers, and he was concerned, and we talked about it before the game and after the game in Seattle. And he was devastated as well this morning by the news.

QUESTION: That's the phone call you had to make?

BIDWELL: I made that phone call to him.

QUESTION: Pete, can you just kind of -- when you hear news like that, I think images go through your head about a person. Can you share some of your memories of Pat?

KENDALL: I remember coming in here for some off-season workouts about this time of the year a couple years back and seeing Pat, and having competed against Pat, you know, Pat was a guy that you knew about, you'd heard the stories about how he had been a walk-on and was kind of a 'tweener and had played himself into a prominent role on the defense in the special teams down here. And so this was a guy that offensively in Seattle I was aware of, that we had to be aware of, and our special teams coaches made my former teammates aware of Pat, and so did -- he was an interesting guy and a guy I was looking forward to getting to know better when I came down.

I believe that was the off-season that Pat had decided that regular football training wasn't enough and so he was going to compete in a triathlon, and I just kind of shook my head and kind of took it all in and said, I think most of the stories are true about this guy, and I think over time that they were.

You know, I just -- I think back to one night Pat and I, I believe she was his finance then, his wife now, and my wife and the Fredricksons (ph) and just a few people from around the team were at the Roller Bowler after a game, preseason, regular season, win or loss, I can't even recall right now. But you know, we just -- we had a meal and we had a couple of beers, and again, just getting to know Pat. And it really was -- it was a nice night, one that I remembered and became, you know, more important in my mind when I found out about his decision and, you know, I really had looked forward to buying him another beer somewhere down the road.

BIDWELL: Thank you. I think some other players will be here later...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We're going to bring a few more players in.

BIDWELL: ... to give their comments.

PHILLIPS: You're watching live a news conference out of Phoenix, Arizona there. Committed and courageous. Two words to describe Pat Tillman, the man who walked away from his professional football career there with the Arizona Cardinals and decided to join the Army, go to Ranger school.

For those of you not familiar, the Elite Ranger Unit, you've got to be so mentally and physically strong. He decided to leave a multimillion-dollar contract, become an Army Ranger, and take part in the hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan.

His teammate, Pete Kendall there along with Mike Bidwill, the Arizona Cardinals representative, just talking about what a privilege it was to know Pat, to work with Pat, to be on the same team as Pat, committed to his friends, his family, but even more so his freedom. As we remember Pat Tillman, I think it's an appropriate time, also, to remember all the men and women that have been killed thus far in Operation Iraqi Freedom and also Enduring Freedom.

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