Two, Real Role Models


Payson High School math teacher Halli Kinnick values greatly Pat Tillman's heroic sacrifice of giving up fame and fortune to join the military.

Her deep appreciation has its roots in her younger years when she often listened in on family accounts of the short life of her great uncle, Nile Kinnick.

Today, Halli says she and the Kinnick family find many similarities in the lives of her uncle and Tillman.

Nile Kinnick passed up a possible career in the National Football League and a $10,000 offer to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers to fight for his country.

Tillman walked away from an Arizona Cardinals' offer of millions of dollars to protect the American way of life.

Both Kinnick and Tillman pursued academic excellence with fervor.

Kinnick graduated from the University of Iowa as senior class president with a 3.4 GPA.

Tillman graduated from Arizona State University summa cum laude in 3-1/2 years with a 3.84 GPA. In August of 1941, Kinnick believed war was imminent and joined the Naval Air Corps Reserves.

Following the events of 9-11, Tillman -- apparently deeply affected by the attack on America -- became an Army Ranger.

On Dec 4, three days before Pearl Harbor, Kinnick reported for duty.

In a letter home, he wrote "There is no reason in the world why we shouldn't fight for the preservation of a chance to live freely."

While attending ASU, Tillman said in an interview that in spite of all his deeds on the playing field, he had not accomplished what his grandfather had done by fighting in World War II.

In all accounts of Kinnick, it is his character and keen interest in helping his fellow man that are most often lauded.

Tillman's character has been praised in almost every eulogy. It's also known he once told friends there was more than football to life and he wanted to contribute to society and help people.

On June 2, 1943, Nile was flying a training mission from the U.S.S Lexington in the Caribbean.

When his aircraft developed engine trouble, the 24-year-old Kinnick decided to attempt an emergency landing in the ocean rather than endanger other sailors with a dangerous landing on the aircraft carrier.

Although rescue parties arrived promptly at the crash scene, Kinnick's body was never found.

In Afghanistan, the small band of Tillman-led Army Rangers came under enemy fire. His squad made it to safety, but another group of Rangers continued to take heavy fire from enemy forces. Tillman was killed returning to the scene of the firefight to help fellow soldiers.

At the University of Iowa where Kinnick had starred in football, the Hawkeyes retired his No. 24.

The No. 42 Tillman wore during his playing days (1994-1998) at ASU will soon be retired.

In 1972 at the University of Iowa, the football stadium was named in honor of Nile Kinnick.

A plaza at the new Arizona Cardinals stadium in Glendale will be named the Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza. It will remain open year-round to celebrate Tillman's legacy.

While playing football at Iowa, Kinnick was an undersized 5-foot, 8-inch 170-pound running back that wasn't particularly quick. By 1939, he was widely considered the country's best football player and was the recipient of the Heisman Trophy.

At Arizona State, Tillman was a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker who gave away 50-60 pounds to the linemen assigned to block him. At the conclusion of his career, he was named the PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the team's most valuable player.

Kinnick is remembered as an All-American boy with movie-idol looks. Tillman's sharp, jutting chin and flowing blond hair he wore at ASU drew more than a few admiring stares from the opposite sex.

Tillman and Kinnick were from different generations but both made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

It is athletes like Tillman and Kinnick that the youth league, high school and college football players of today should be respecting, emulating and admiring. Both are genuine heroes and true role models.

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