Carolina Panthers

Retired Panthers CB Charles Tillman: ‘Special team’ made torn ACL worth it

Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman finished his NFL career with 40 forced fumbles and 38 interceptions.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman finished his NFL career with 40 forced fumbles and 38 interceptions. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charles “Peanut” Tillman played on a partially torn ACL last season for seven weeks until it finally gave out, and he’d do it all again for the Carolina Panthers.

Tillman announced his retirement this week after 13 seasons in the NFL, with 12 coming in Chicago and his last coming with the Panthers. In an interview with the Observer Thursday night, Tillman said the decision to play through the pain was more about selflessness than selfishness.

“I was willing to tear my ACL for those guys,” Tillman said. “When you have a special team, when you’re in a room with 53 men who are very close and think the world of each other, that’s what you do. That’s the kind of culture that was set. I know I was only there one year, but within that year I believed in that culture.

“If I could go back and do it again, I’d do the same thing again. I’d play on a partially torn ACL. I knew the cost and possibility of it tearing. I’d easily do it again to go to the Super Bowl.

“I’m paying for it now but you know what? It was a smart choice. I do not regret it at all.”

I’m paying for it now but you know what? It was a smart choice. I do not regret it at all.

Charles Tillman on playing part of 2015 season on a partially torn ACL

Up until recently, Tillman was training to return for another season. He posted pictures and videos to his Twitter account showing his workout regimens in the spring, and last month he said the Panthers would be the only team he’d play for.

But one day within the past two weeks or so, Tillman said he woke up and just knew it was time.

“I call my smart self Charles and the clown is Peanut,” Tillman said. “I had a conversation with my two personalities. Charles said, ‘I think we’re done,’ and Peanut said, ‘OK I guess we’re done then.’ And I’m at peace with it.”

Almost a 40-40 man

Tillman finishes his career as a two-time Pro Bowler and the 2013 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He dealt with injuries in his final three seasons, tearing his right triceps in consecutive seasons with the Bears before blowing out his knee with the Panthers.

He forced 44 fumbles using his patented “Peanut Punch,” and he finished with 38 career interceptions. Tillman was just two interceptions shy of becoming the only player in NFL history with at least 40 forced fumbles and 40 interceptions.

That’s something that will gnaw at him.

“Yeah I’m definitely disappointed,” he said. “I’m two picks away from being the only player to get 40-40. That’s probably my only regret is not taking advantage of two interceptions that I probably dropped.”

If that’s the only regret, then it’s been a good career by any measure. Now it’s time to take on another career.

This week, FOX announced Tillman would join its Sunday morning pre-game show from 11 a.m. to noon. A FOX senior vice president said in a release that he was impressed not only by Tillman’s knowledge of the game, but his “ability to articulate it” when he met with Tillman.

Tillman promises he’ll be fair as an analyst and won’t throw a player under the bus. If, for example, Thomas Davis misses a tackle, Tillman will say that Davis is good enough to make that tackle and that he’s sure Davis will correct it next time.

Bears or Panthers? ‘Flip a coin’

But if the Panthers and Bears were to meet, don’t make Tillman pick between them.

“I’m going to flip a coin,” he said.

Tillman spent 12 years in Chicago, and Friday he signed a one-day contract to retire with the Bears. But several times during the interview he spoke glowingly of Charlotte and Panthers’ fans.

“Charlotte showed me so much love. Carolina showed me so much love,” Tillman said. “It’s not forgotten. I know I’m not getting a statue like Thomas Davis, but Carolina showed me some love and I’m so grateful for them taking a chance on me.

“It’s nice to be somewhere where someone wants you and Charlotte was that place.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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