On Tuesday, we got our first look at an honorable gesture by ASU Football. And I recoiled in horror. Don't like it. Not one bit. And, ever since that first glance, I've been trying to figure out – why not?
See, during practice this week, Alden Darby is wearing #42. The same #42 that makes every Sun Devil fan – actually, every Arizonan – instantly think of Pat Tillman, who wore it over a decade ago before leaving football and losing his life in combat while defending his country.
Now, it's on a practice jersey for any Sun Devil player who earns the right.
"We call it PT42, it's about a person who embodies all the things that he emulated," said ASU Head Coach Todd Graham. "To earn that jersey is really hard to do. And Alden Darby earned it. Because, every single day, he's brought it in the classroom and the community. On the field, off the field – I think he's having an All-Pac-12 season. He's just been phenomenal. And those are very hard to come by."
To me, it should be impossible to come by. Never before and never again will there be a Pat Tillman. That number is #1. And it should stay that way.
To be clear, as Coach Graham noted Tuesday – "he was not perfect." Indeed, as someone who attended the same high school and hails from his hometown Almaden Valley (metro San Jose), I knew Pat was most definitely human before he ever earned Pac Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Academic All-American honors, or became an American hero to many.
But Pat Tillman is no longer captured in a jersey, not even a military camo version, as Darby is sporting. Tillman's life went way beyond the gridiron and the college experience. In fact, Pat conducted himself in such a way that it made the rest of us examine the manner in which we were leading our lives.
Consequently, putting a Tillman jersey on an ASU player simply isn't fair – to the player. No matter how deserving and humbled he might be.
"I felt proud of myself honestly. I felt really proud of myself," Darby shared with reporters after becoming the first ASU player to be awarded the PT42 for a practice week. "It just reminded me that hard work and effort really does pay off."
In this case, it should pay off…with a PT42 patch on a jersey. Or a PT42 sticker on a helmet. Yes, that feels right. But then draw the line.
Why? Because a patch or a sticker rides alongside another number, the actual numeral (ie, identity) assigned to that player. Something other than #42, which became sole property of Pat Tillman the moment he lost his life as an Army Ranger.