It is the best play I’ve ever seen made by a Bears corner. 2003. Soldier Field. Minnesota Vikings. Game on the line. Daunte Culpepper sees Randy Moss. He looks across to the defense. He sees one man. Single coverage. No safety. No help. Snap. Moss takes off to the goalline and Culpepper throws the jump ball he’d thrown a hundred times. He’d completed about ninety of them. This wouldn’t be one.
It happened before playoff victories and a trip to the Super Bowl. It happened before Pro Bowls and accolades, before the “Peanut Punch” became a thing. Hell, it happened before Lovie Smith even arrived in Chicago. But that play, that moment, should be where the Charles “Peanut” Tillman conversation begins.
Where it ends is on a player who changed the way defensive football in the NFL is played by bringing the boxing ring to the gridiron. He threw a fist at the football and subsequently threw himself into the history books.
The Moss play was a Hall of Fame moment from a Hall of Fame player who most likely won’t end up in Canton because he never sought the limelight so many other premiere corners are desperate for and never accumulated the stats that make the national voting writers’ eyes pop out of their heads.
Forced fumble, one could argue, are more difficult to achieve than interceptions and every bit as important. You don’t luck into forced fumbles. Quarterback misreads or poor route running don’t lead to forced fumbles. You have to create them. You have to do something. Nobody has ever done it like Peanut.
Now the Bears have placed Charles Tillman on IR, designated to return. Simply put the Bears would need to make the postseason for there to be any chance Peanut plays again in 2013. If the triceps injury is serious and requires surgery, the corner’s season is almost certainly over.
Will this have been his final season in a Bears uniform? It would be a shame if so. Tillman takes a backseat only to Brian Urlacher as the most important Chicago Bear since the turn of the new century and it would be sad to see both of their careers in Chicago end with the same injured thud. But the business of the sport is the business of the sport. Tillman will be thirty-three years old at the start of next season. He is coming off a season with multiple injuries to multiple parts of the body. (How many games did he see to completion? Three? Maybe?) And players, especially in the NFL, don’t get healthier as they get older. They break down; the repercussion of being hit by a Buick thirty or forty times every Sunday for more than a decade.
Tillman is a Chicago Bears legend, arguably the best cornerback in franchise history. I hope he’ll be back in a Bears uniform, if only for sentimental reasons. But if he does not return his career will be celebrated long after he’s finished playing the sport. Because nobody will ever force a fumble in a Bears uniform again without Bears fans across the country thinking about the greatest to ever do it.