Pat Tillman’s Legacy Perseveres Through Preservation of Cardinals Locker

Pat Tillman - Cardinals

Getty Fans adorn the statue of Pat Tillman with American flags in honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks following the season-opening game between the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals on September 11, 2011, in Glendale, Arizona.

About a month after signing with the Arizona Cardinals, J.J. Watt shared a photo on Twitter from inside the team’s training facility in Tempe, Arizona.

Watt is pictured standing next to the glass-encased memorial to former Cardinals defensive back Pat Tillman, who left the team after the 2001 season to join the Army Rangers. Tillman later gave his life for his country when he was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004, while on patrol in Afghanistan.

“Everything about his legacy is unbelievable to me,” Watt says in the Cardinals’ documentary series “Folktales: Legendary Locker,” which debuted Wednesday, September 8, on the team’s YouTube channel. “So to be here, to be walking the same halls that he walked and to see his locker was special for me.”

“When you get to that spot, it’s almost a universal reaction,” Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck said. “People just stop and conversation ceases.”

The memorial features Tillman’s locker from his time with the Cardinals in 1998-2001. “Folktales: Legendary Locker” tells the story of how the locker was almost demolished during a $15 million renovation of the training complex in February 2015.

‘I Didn’t Want Pat to Be Forgotten’

Cardinals radio producer Jim Omohundro is credited with single-handedly saving Tillman’s locker and preserving that piece of team history.

“As time goes by, you start to forget about things that happened in history,” Omohundro says in “Folktales: Legendary Locker.” “I think it was important to save the locker because I didn’t want Pat to be forgotten.”

His colleagues say there’s no bigger Cardinals fan than Omohundro, who’s been around the team his entire life. His father worked as an athletic trainer for the Cardinals for 42 seasons, “so I was literally born into this organization,” he said.

Omohundro began his own career with the team as part of the Cardinals’ broadcast department in 2001, which was also Tillman’s final season.

“(Tillman) always looked out for everyone,” he said, “whether you were a teammate or, you know, a radio guy.”

On February 2, 2015, while on his lunch break and waiting for his food at a nearby pizza place, Omohundro recalls checking his phone and seeing a post on Twitter that renovation had started at the Tempe training facility.

“So I freak out,” he says in the documentary. “There’s a photo with a destroyed locker on the ground.”

Omohundro remembers leaving a $20 bill on the table, racing out of the restaurant and back to the Cardinals’ training facility. By the time he got there, the carpet had been pulled out and most of the lockers had been destroyed.

About six lockers were still intact, he said, including the one Tillman used during his time with the Cardinals. The placard featuring Tillman’s name had been removed long ago, making way for other players who used the locker over the years. But Omohundro knew the history of the locker and the importance of making sure it was preserved.

“There’s a guy with a saw walking directly for Pat Tillman’s locker,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! Don’t cut that one out.’ He looks at me like I’m nuts. I said, ‘We have to cut this one out carefully and set it aside. That’s Pat Tillman’s locker.’ ”

Tillman’s Legend Lives On

In addition to the story behind saving and preserving the locker, “Folktales: Legendary Locker” features interviews with Tillman from his time with the Cardinals and with many of his Arizona teammates.

Quarterback Jake Plummer was teammates with Tillman both with the Cardinals and in college at Arizona State. Plummer says Tillman was “legendary for just being the guy he was, being true to himself.”

“He believed in himself so much so that he did something that no one could fathom he would do, and go give up millions of dollars to go fight for our country,” he says in the documentary. “Well, for Pat, it was just life. That was what life was about, doing what you believed and living your life.”

It’s a message that lives on at the Cardinals’ training facility, Plummer said, reminding the players who walk past Tillman’s locker each day of his spirit and sacrifice.

“His locker (being) alive and his legend alive there, it’s telling the players to live your trueness, be who you are,” he said.

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