This week’s Ten Thoughts have me going in a different direction; I'm dedicating the entire thing to one of my favorite all time players in the NFL, Charles Tillman.
Tillman retired from the NFL yesterday in the most "Peanut" way ever, with a video of him going through his day, punching things out of peoples hands, and then finally punching out on a time clock and hanging up his cleats.
In case you missed the video, you can see it in this article.
1) Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense unfairly lumped Tillman into the ‘system corner’ category, but he was much more than that. While it’s true that Tillman was a perfect fit for Lovie’s system, with his physical play and his knack for causing turnovers, Tillman also had no problem mirroring a wide out man to man when called on to do so. The Bears didn’t ask him to shadow a wide out that often, but when he did, he was more successful than not.
2) Probably the most famous time he took on the challenge of manning up a wide out came in 2006, the Bears NFC Championship season, when Tillman matched up with the New York Giants’ Plaxico Burress in a nationally televised Sunday night contest.
Burress ripped the Bears’ secondary leading up to the game, but when the lights came on, all he managed was 4 receptions for 48 yards. Peanut had 3 tackles, 3 passes broken up and an interception in the Bears 38-20 win.
The two matched up again in 2007, and even though the Giants picked up the win, Tillman helped hold Burress to 3 catches for 36 yards, and he had another interception, this time in the end zone.
3) Tillman’s NFC North battles with the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson were always fun to watch.
At 6’2”, 210 pounds Tillman was one of the few corners in the NFL that could physically match up with the 6’5”, 235 pound Megatron. That picture above is from a Monday Night game in 2012 when Tillman was tasked with shadowing Johnson all night. The Bears won 13-7 and Tillman ended up with 7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 passes defended while holding Johnson to 3 catches (on 11 targets) for 34 yards.
4) If we’re talking about my favorite play of Tillman’s 13 year career, we have to go all the way back to his rookie season when he snatched the ball away from the Minnesota Vikings’ Randy Moss in the end zone with 1:02 left in the game. Peanut’s timely pick helped the Bears hold onto a 13-10 victory.
5) Tillman changed the way players play and he changed the way coaches taught defense. He may have learned how to punch the ball out in college, but he has inspired coaches and players to learn the Peanut Punch technique in the years since. Recent Bears draft pick Deiondre’ Hall patterns his game after Tillman.
6) It's a shame the NFL didn't recognize just how good a player Tillman was until later in his career. His two Pro Bowls came in years nine and ten and in my opinion, Tillman should have made at least two, maybe even three more trips to Hawaii. If Tillman was a 5 time Pro Bowler, I think he’d be a lock for the Hall Of Fame, but with just two, some voters won’t understand just how good he was, even if his numbers are Hall worthy.
7) And as good of a player that Tillman was, he was an even better person off the field. Here’s the clip of him winning the 2013 Walter Payton Man Of The Year Award.
8) Former Bears’ beat writer Sean Jensen wrote a children's book titled, The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman: "Peanut", about a “young, well-traveled boy nicknamed “Peanut,” who had to deal with racism, adapt to constant relocation, and endure the divorce of his parents.”
The book was the second in Jensen’s series, the first of which featured Tillman’s ex-Bears teammate Brian Urlacher.
10) Nothing shows Tillman’s desire to be a team player more than his willingness to play special teams. How many times can you recall seeing Tillman making a block on one of Devin Hester’s return TDs?
In 2012, in his 10th season, Tillman played in over 20% of the Bears special teams snaps. That was the last year he played in all 16 games, but he was also a special teams player in 2013 and 2014 with the Bears.
Last year with the Carolina Panthers, even at 34 years old, Tillman was still lining up in the 3rd phase playing 82 special team’s snaps in 12 games (17.2%).
Since Tillman always went the extra mile on the field, I’m taking my Ten Thoughts to 11 this week.
11) Check out this incredible stat I found on NFL.com.
He has forced 44 fumbles, second only to Robert Mathis since Tillman entered the league. But Mathis isn't a fair comparison because he's a pass rusher. They are supposed to force fumbles. Tillman is the only defensive back in the top 10 of forced fumbles since 2003, nearly doubling Charles Woodson, the next closest defensive back.
The numbers don’t lie, Charles “Peanut” Tillman belongs in the Hall of Fame.
EDIT: We’re getting some neat stuff in our comment section that I wanted to make sure I shared. So I’m going the extra, extra, extra... mile.
12) This is incredible...
When you run this search at Pro Football Reference, “For combined seasons, from 1920 to 2016, requiring Fumbles Forced >= 40 and Interceptions >= 35, sorted by descending Interceptions,” you come up with only one name.
14) Adam Hoge, who has covered the Bears for a few years now at a number of places, and who I actually interviewed when he was a writer for the SB Nation Wisconsin Badgers site, shared a great story on his Facebook page that I have to pass along.
It’s well worth the read.
I haven't shared this story publicly, but with the news of Charles Tillman's retirement, it seems like the right time:
My son, James, has a couple congenital heart defects that will eventually require surgery. We first learned about these defects in 2014 when James was born prematurely and spent two months in the hospital. The fall of 2014 was stressful not only because of what was going on at home, but also because the Bears were going through a drama-filled season and it seemed like something crazy was happening every day at work. As if that wasn't enough, 87.7 The Game suddenly folded in November, creating a tumultous (and awkward) final month and a half of the season.
Meanwhile, Charles Tillman was going through his own personal hardship after suffering a season-ending triceps injury for the second year in a row. But in the middle all the chaos, Tillman got word of what was going on with James from former PR guru Mike Corbo and pulled me aside at Halas Hall to talk to me about what was going on. As you may know, one of Tillman's daughters needed a heart transplant when she was just three-months-old, so he could relate to the fear we were experiencing after hearing doctors put the words "heart" and "surgery" in the same sentence.
It was a small gesture, but one that meant a lot to both my wife and me. The fact that Corbo took the time to set that up and Tillman took the time to talk to me about everything won't be forgotten.
I tend to be very skeptical when I hear people say that a particular athlete is "a good guy" or even "a bad guy" because the truth is that (for the most part) we don't really know them that well. In Tillman's case, I think the work he does with The Cornerstone Foundation speaks for itself, but there are also many other stories like this one that show the type of character he displayed on and off the field during his career.
The 2014 season seemingly got uglier and uglier every day, but Tillman didn't go anywhere. He was hurt and likely knew it was his last season as a Bear, but he was right there on the field every day trying to coach up his teammates, when many players would have collected their money and watched from home. From time-to-time when I saw him, Tillman checked in with me on James and that continued even after the season when he was no longer with the organization.
I've said this before, but watching Tillman go one-on-one with Calvin Johnson twice a year was a highlight of my time covering football. And the "Peanut Punch" was an important contribution to the game. Congrats to Charles Tillman on retirement. A great player, a great Bear and a great person.
EDIT: I just might get to 33...
15) The Bears shared the top 5 plays of Tillman’s career and it seems they and I share a favorite play.
If I come across any other cool Tillman nuggets I’ll try and pass them along.