Tillman 10 years later: Lesson learned

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
9:45
AM ET
Pat Tillman didn't let others dictate his path. No matter how much longer it took or harder it was, he had to do it his way.

After undergoing shoulder surgery after his freshman season, Tillman had orders from former Arizona State athletic trainer Perry Edinger to wear a sling for six weeks as he went through rehab. Two days after surgery, Edinger saw Tillman in the hallway -- sans sling.

[+] EnlargePat Tillman
Gene Lower/Getty ImagesPat Tillman didn't always follow the instructions of his trainer.
"I was like, ‘Knucklehead, what's the deal?' " Edinger recalled.

Tillman, in his 18-year-old wisdom, told Edinger he "felt good," and he never showed up for rehab. Midway through spring practice in 1995, Edinger noticed Tillman was tackling with only one shoulder. It didn't take long for Edinger to convince Tillman to start the proper rehabilitation. A Pac-10 player of the year honor and an All-American nod later, Tillman's career turned out all right.

But his stubbornness didn't end in college.

During offseasons in the NFL, Tillman would get bored with the Cardinals' training program. One year, he decided to run the Avenue of the Giants marathon, and solicited Edinger's help. At first, Edinger tried to talk Tillman out of it. Training to run for four hours wasn't compatible with training to be an NFL player, Edinger explained, to no avail. With or without Edinger's help, Tillman said, he was going to finish 26.2 miles.

Finally, Edinger gave in. But he laid down ground rules: Tillman had to follow his training plan to the letter leading up to the race and for two weeks after.

Sure, Tillman said. Sure.

Tillman beat his goal of a sub-4-hour marathon by eight minutes. A few days later, against Edinger's plan, he went to the Cardinals' practice facility for workouts and strained his calf. He went back to Edinger's office that week and admitted he made a mistake. Edinger helped him rehab, but made it four weeks instead of two, just to prove a point.

"Just to show his happy ass that I was right," Edinger said, laughing.

And while Tillman had to figure what worked and didn't on his own, he always respected authority. He may have challenged it, but he respected it. And that came from his parents -- Pat Sr. was a lawyer and Mary was a teacher.

Edinger couldn't help but laugh at some of Tillman's antics, but he was amazed at how well Tillman could switch gears from college kid to young adult.

"It ended up being so natural for him," Edinger said. "It was just who he was. There was nothing fake about it. When he was with his buddies there was no stopping him. When he was out, it was like his dad was in his ear.

"If you ever had a chance to meet his dad or be around his dad, when [Pat] was in a public situation, he was his dad."

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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