What follows may sound like the beginning of a movie script. But it’s a real story about dedication to a higher calling and personal sacrifice, and it involves a former Carolina Panther.
Tillman will work a minimum of 50 hours a week and take home far less money, less than $70,000 annually in the beginning, than he did as an NFL player. That’s peanuts compared to the estimated $50 million he made over 13 years in the NFL.
So Tillman doesn’t really need a job, much less one that’s dangerous, not always appreciated, and demanding. Tillman’s job with the FBI, which bears responsibility for containing more than 300 federal crimes, could involve extensive time away from his family, for instance, according to retired U.S. Marshal Kim Widup.
Because of the probationary period – “where they can dismiss you for almost anything” – and the nature of the job, it’s no surprise that there was no splashy announcement when Tillman graduated from the FBI’s training academy in Quantico, Va. But Tillman is now on the job, and has a “badge and everything.”
And it’s possible that the FBI might use the former Pro Bowl cornerback’s name in recruiting efforts, Widup told the Sporting News.
Tillman, who retired in July 2016, apparently finished his FBI training just in time. Special Agent candidates must finish training before their 37th birthday, which Tillman celebrated Friday.
The son of an Army seargeant, Tillman didn’t jump blindly into police work. He earned a degree in criminal justice from Louisiana-Lafayette and reportedly worked with law enforcement agencies in his offseasons.
Tillman played 13 years in the NFL, all but his final season for the Chicago Bears. In Charlotte, Tillman played through the pain of a partially torn ACL in the 2015 Super Bowl season. When that ACL did tear in the final regular-season game, the injury knocked him from the Panthers’ postseason drive to Super Bowl 50. And ultimately, it ended his career.
Though he didn’t plan on retiring until after that season, he never regretted the decision to take the chance on further injury for a “special team ... 53 men who are very close and think the world of each other,” he told the Observer.
“I knew the cost and possibility of it tearing. I’d easily do it again to go to the Super Bowl.”
Before his retirement, Tillman was training for a 14th season, and posted videos and photos to his Twitter account about his regimen. He said he’d play for no other team than the Panthers.
When he finally decided to retire, he announced it with this gut-busting YouTube video that celebrated his “Peanut Punch,” the move he used to separate ball carriers from footballs.
Tillman racked up 44 forced fumbles over 168 NFL games. He finished his career just two interceptions shy of becoming the only player in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions and 40 forced fumbles. With the Bears, he went to two Pro Bowls.
Tillman earned his greatest NFL honor in 2013, when he was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable efforts. Tillman’s Cornerstone Foundation has helped thousands of critically and chronically ill children and their families, according to its website. Tillman’s daughter, Tiana, received a heart transplant in 2008 and became an inspiration for his charitable efforts.
With the FBI, the “Peanut Punch” may not help solve crimes or apprehend criminals, but Tillman may not be totally done with football. It’s possible that Tillman will see more Super Bowls, as the agency takes a pivotal role in security for the sport’s biggest game.
Follow Mike Reader on Twitter.