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Football: Tillman’s impact honored in ceremony

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, November 22, 20

Charles Tillman, a former UL and current Chicago Bears cornerback, receives a gift as his No. 5 jersey was retired during halftime of Saturday’s game at Cajun Field. (Photo: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser)

Charles Tillman already knew it was a big deal.

After all, he played a lot of games at Cajun Field during his career with the Ragin’ Cajuns from 1999-2002.

He’s also made several trips back to Lafayette during his illustrious career with the Chicago Bears.

During all of those experiences, the Chicago native who finished high school in Texas saw the names and jersey numbers of past UL greats up on the wall above the stands on the Cajundome side of Cajun Field.

As a college player, he never imagined that Saturday’s halftime ceremony when UL officially retired his No. 5 jersey number would ever be considered.

But as much of an honor as it was, it wasn’t until UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie put it into perspective that it really, really hit home for Tillman.

Savoie told Tillman that no matter what Cajun Field looks like a 100 years from now that his name and his number will also be there for people to see.

"That’s when it really sunk in," said Tillman, who was a second-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. "I love this university. The university and the people of Lafayette have always been so gracious to me."

Tillman’s No. 5 is now honored along side Brian Mitchell, Damon Mason, Jake Delhomme, Brandon Stokley, Glenn LaFleur, Tyrell Fenroy and Orlando Thomas.

Tillman said when he left Copperas Cove High his goal was nothing more than to get an opportunity to achieve.

"UL and Lafayette gave me an opportunity to play (college) football" Tillman said. "I would do it all over again and I wouldn’t change anything."

Tillman said it was important to him that his wife, three daughters and a son be on the field with him for Saturday’s ceremony as a learning opportunity.

"I want them to know how hard I worked," he said. "I worked hard at football to get all of this."

That hard work and dedicated has certainly paid off in so many ways.

He’s become one of the best NFL big-play defensive backs during his pro career. Tillman has 36 career interceptions and 132 pass break-ups. He’s also forced 42 fumbles, recovered eight, scored eight touchdowns defensively, collected three quarterbacks sacks and 849 total tackles in an NFL career from 2003 through today.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection was also a first-team All-Pro honoree in 2012.

Tillman is currently on injured reserve after suffering a torn right triceps injury in week two.

The thing that puts Tillman a cut above other highly honored came in 2013 when he was the recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

"I never imagined getting any of these honors," Tillman said after Saturday’s halftime ceremony. "I’m very grateful. I’m truly blessed is what I am."

Tillman is also a three-time winner of the Bears’ Brian Piccolo Award, a 2009 winner of the Ed Block Courage Award.

And fittingly on Saturday, Tillman was honored along with UL’s Military Appreciation Day. His father, Donald Tillman, Jr., was in the military and he won the Salute to Service Award in 2012.

Tillman’s respect began have begun during his days with the Cajuns, but now stretches far beyond Lafayette. Just this week, for instance, espnw.com did a big feature story on Tillman’s impact on the league and in the Chicago area.

"Peanut is the type of teammate that goes above and beyond to support you on and off the field," former Bears teammate Anthony Adams said in the story. "He is the prototypical person who lifts as he climbs. Easily one of the best teammates I’ve had, hands down. He is as selfless as they come and his (charity work) is a reflection of this. Giving families resources and hope in their time of need is amazing and shows the nature of the type of man he is."

Now Tillman’s example has a permanent fixture at Cajun Field for all to admire and learn.