Pat Tillman was an Arizona Cardinals safety who walked away from a multi-million football contract to enlist in the U.S. Army after 9/11. Tillman served tours as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan, before being killed in friendly fire in 2004 in Khost Province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon chose to keep the cause of death under wraps until a day after his memorial service. Pat Tillman is a hallowed figure in the history of the modern NFL. He was intelligent, gregarious and worldly. He felt it was his duty to serve his country after the attack that befell it. It did not stop Tillman expressing misgivings about the wars he took part in. The relationship between a country and its service personnel assumes the form of an unwritten covenant. Great modern American works of fiction and non-fiction - such as Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Thank You for Your Service - have chronicled what is like for military personnel return home after serving in recent wars.
This week is Veterans Week. Each November we are accustomed to seeing camouflage NFL team clothing. Sometimes the branding, mirroring the relationship between the NFL and the Department of Defense, can be overkill. The lives of Pat Tillman and Paul Hornung, whom I’ll feature below, and countless others, are worth recognizing and commemorating.
Game of the Week: Buffalo Bills @ Arizona Cardinals A Kyler Murray Hail Mary touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins gave the Arizona Cardinals an epic 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills. In what was one of the best games of the 2020 season, Hopkins leapt above three Bills defenders in the end zone to haul in Murray’s throw. Murray rolled to his left, evaded a rusher, said a prayer, and put the ball into the heavens. The Cardinals declared they are for real after coming back against one of the AFC’s better teams. I’ve spent weeks talking about Murray’s ability in the air and on the ground, and he was superb again yesterday. Arizona’s defense, under Vance Joseph’s play-calling, pressured Bills quarterback Josh Allen and stopped their running game. With the game on the line, the Cards defense stopped Buffalo in their tracks. In the fourth quarter, the pressure got to Allen and he threw interceptions at crucial points. The Bills will go into their bye week and rue the 23-9 third quarter lead they gave up. The running game is too inconsistent. With the Miami Dolphins on a hot streak, Buffalo’s lead in the AFC East is whittled down to one game. The game will be remembered by many for that rarest of feats - a walk off Hail Mary. With Arizona now serving as a league-wide threat, we should jot down the day Vance Joseph’s unit made their stand.
Week 9 highlights Quote of the Week: “No longer a cultural fit.” The Houston Texans fired vice president of communications Amy Palcic, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter, after she was deemed no longer the right fit. It is a bizarre phrase to attribute to one who was in charge of PR at the Texans for seven years. She is the first and only woman to be head of PR for an NFL team, and her team previously won the Rozelle Award for best PR Staff in the NFL. On the surface, this is another example of a strong female leader meeting obstacles at every turn. The universal outpouring in the media of dismay about the firing and respect for Palcic, speaks to something murky behind the scenes. She deserves to get hired again by a team. For now, she is armed with a lawyer.
Cincinnati Joe: Burrow was hit early and often (13 times) by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. It was a rough day at the office for the Bengals, who were pounded by the AFC’s North’s finest. Bradywatch: Tom Brady and the Buccaneers bounced back from the trouncing against the New Orleans Saints. His deep ball was off, but otherwise Brady’s throws were crisp and on point. He threw three touchdown passes and had a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Mike Evans and he appeared to have their chemistry back. Stat of the Week: 50-mph an hour winds. The weather has a tendency to show up in November and turn football scores into something resembling the result in a soccer match. A case in point was the Browns game against the Houston Texans in Cleveland, in which a thunderstorm rolled in, delayed the game, and then rain and 50-mph dominated. It finished 10-7 to the Browns. NFC West: The 49ers were dispatched by New Orleans. The L.A. Rams confined Seattle to a second straight loss in a result that should have major ramifications for the division come later December. Arizona had an incredible win against AFC high flyers, the Buffalo Bills. Bar the 49ers, each team sits at 6-3.
MVP of the Week: Paul Hornung, one of the most versatile players to ever play football, died during the week after a long battle with dementia. A titan on the legendary Green Bay Packers team of the 1960’s, he could run the ball, throw the ball and kick the ball. He was a triple threat. Nicknamed the Golden Boy for his curly blonde hair and good looks, he had the uncanny knack of scoring touchdowns time after time when the Packers were in the red zone. As his coach Vince Lombardi said, “he smells that goal line.” In 1961, he managed to juggle active service in the U.S. Army with playing for the Packers on weekend passes. When Lombardi learned that the Berlin Wall Crisis would keep Hornung on duty during the NFL Championship Game, he called on President John F. Kennedy, who arranged a leave for Hornung to play in the game. In a 37-0 win over the New York Giants, Hornung kicked three field goals and scored a touchdown.
Thank you for service
It bears repeating: you can be skeptical about war and supportive of the troops. America has plenty of men and women cast in the spirit and values of Pat Tillman and Paul Hornung. With the curtain coming down on Veterans Week, we salute them.