News broke last night that Charles Tillman will not be back with the Bears in 2015, ending a 12 year run that featured 156 games, 857 tackles, 3 sacks, 42 forced fumbles, 36 interceptions, 9 touchdowns, and countless memories.
Tillman will be remembered as one of the three faces of the Lovie Smith era, the most successful run the Bears have had since their Super Bowl team of the 1980s. While he never matched the off-field recognition counterparts Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs received, Tillman’s play on the field was stellar; his production was comparable to that of many compatriots who will enter the Hall of Fame.
Tillman’s career saw him go up against some of the best receivers in the NFL, and he more than held his own. Bears fans knew they had a great player when he stole the ball from Randy Moss for a game-saving interception in the end zone his rookie year, and in 2012 he shut down Calvin Johnson twice in the midst of the most productive season a wide receiver has ever had in the NFL.
In between, Tillman became famous for the Peanut Punch, his signature move that resulted in 42 forced fumbles, including an astonishing 10 in 2012. After 12 seasons with the Bears, Tillman is the undisputed best defensive back in franchise history. His name is scattered throughout the franchise record books, including most defensive touchdowns, most interception return yards, most interceptions returned for touchdowns, and most forced fumbles.
But greater than his impact on Sundays was his off-field impact in Chicago. Perhaps no Bear since Walter Payton has had as significant of an off-field impact in Chicago as Tillman, which made it so fitting when Tillman won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award from the NFL following the 2013 season.
He has been involved in a number of charitable causes in Chicago throughout his career, most notably the Cornerstone Foundation, which he and his wife founded to “provide opportunities and resources to children and their families who are in need.” Tillman’s days as a Bear may be over, but his presence will undoubtedly continue to be felt throughout the Chicagoland area through his community service.
Hard to say goodbye
Tillman’s exit serves as a painful reminder that Father Time remains undefeated. Following the best season of his career in 2012, Tillman battled through injuries from the get-go in 2013. He still managed to force 6 turnovers in 8 games, but then he tore his triceps and was out for the rest of the season. After working his way back for 2014, Tillman lasted only 1.5 games before suffering the same injury.
As Tillman sat on the sidelines, television cameras caught him overcome with emotion as he realized this could be the end of his run in Chicago. Watching on television 2,000 miles away, I couldn’t help but share Tillman’s tears, and I’m sure I was not alone among Bears fans in that moment.
If ever a player deserved to go out on top, it was Charles Tillman. It would have felt right to see him win a Super Bowl and then retire, or at least have a strong final season before leaving Chicago on his own terms. But unfortunately life cannot be scripted, and instead we had to watch his body betray him these last two years.
Selfishly, I want Tillman to retire this offseason. It would be hard to watch him in a uniform other than Chicago’s. But if he does sign somewhere else for one last run, I hope he can manage to stay healthy and have a productive year, and I will be cheering for his team should they make the playoffs.
And whether he plays for another team or not in 2015, Charles Tillman will forever be a Bear.