Your football career doesn’t define the majority of your life. It’s only a tiny piece of who you are. For Charles Tillman, that adjustment to life outside the game after playing in the NFL for 13 seasons has been seamless — well, for the most part.
The most crucial aspect that’s dramatically changed for Tillman - in a positive way - has been his life as a father and husband. In his mind, this is the true definition of his success. His life is his family and what he can do for them.
It isn’t easy, but above all, for Tillman, it’s enriching.
Now, when Tillman’s not talking about the game of football that defined his life for years on the airwaves, he’s at home being “Mr. Mom,” doing as much as he can whenever possible.
I asked Tillman about the meaning of his legacy to him, the common defining factor between the two Super Bowl teams he played on, for his advice for the current Bears, and most importantly: to reflect on his new, exhilarating life as a father and man at home.
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What has this Dad 2.0 Summit has meant to you? How have you adjusted as a father in family life since your football career came to an end?
Yeah, obviously, I retired in July. This is my first year out. Huge adjustment, significant change. You know, I work for FOX, but during the week, I’m home. I’m “Mr. Mom.” I’m taking the kids to school, and I’m picking them up. I’m the Dad Uber. I’m the “DU-ber.” I’m taking them to places, running their errands from horseback riding to gymnastics to dance to tutoring.
With Dove Men+Care, the message we try to send out is that today we draw real strength and fulfillment from our roles as caring fathers and men, caring for our kids and letting people know, “it’s okay to do all these things you think a woman would do.”
I love taking my kids around and being their hero and being their “soccer dad,” if you want to call it that. I know I’m their hero because I’m doing all the little things in helping them out. That’s the extraordinary care that we show for others. That’s what being a dad is.
With the Dad 2.0 Summit and Dove Men+Care, that’s kind of what we’re about.
Earlier this year, you wrote a letter in the Player’s Tribune, discussing how your initial dad-life as a husband and father took time to get used to back in 2005. What kinds of advice would you give to young NFL fathers and husbands, people in your previous position?
Oh, man. You know what? There is no perfect solution. As a dad, you’re going to make 100 mistakes. If you have your first child, learn from your mistakes. And when you look back, five years, six years, 10 years later, you’re gonna grow and show your child how amazing it is.
And enjoy the moment, man. Enjoy the process. Try not to miss the big moments.
You know, I got ridiculed for 2012 in November when my youngest daughter was born. I commented online, and I said, “You know what if my wife goes into labor during the game or before the game? I’ll miss the game, and I’ll be there for my wife’s labor.”
I got a lot of flak for saying that.
The biggest thing that I try to tell people: At the end of the day, when football is long gone, I will always have my kids. I will have my kids longer than I will have the game of football. Even if I played 20 years in the NFL, I would have had my kids longer than I had played in the NFL.
And at the end of the day, man, it’s all about your family and all about my kids. I want my kids to know that. We’re a family, and a family sticks together. My family, that’s my real strength.
I’m going to guess that you haven’t become used to being a full-time dad yet, that it takes time to get accustomed. But how long did it take you to at least get comfortable?
It took a little bit because my wife has a set schedule, and she has her, you know, she runs a steady, tight ship. I came in trying to change and do different things and was put in my place very quickly. I got put in my place very quickly.
So yeah, it didn’t take that long because she let me know who was in charge and who the boss was.
Now, we got our small four-person fire team, and we do things, and we run it a certain kind of way in the house. She does one thing, and I do the other, and how we run it, well, it runs smooth.
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Let’s move over to your football career. In that Player’s Tribune letter, you said you didn’t have any regrets other than not getting in the 40-40 club—40 career interceptions and 40 forced fumbles. Aside from that mark, was there anything you would’ve changed about your career?
No. I think the legacy that I’ve left behind in the NFL — particularly with the Panthers and the Bears — I think I’ve left a good legacy behind. If you were you to go and talk to coaches, teammates, and other workers in non-football ops., I think they would say positive things about me.
Too many times when you hear the word “legacy,” you think about death, and oh, “When Charles Tillman dies, what will his legacy be?” Oh, well, “he did this, and he did that.”
As far as my legacy, you can have a legacy in high school, and you can have a legacy at your job in what you do. What will people say when you leave that job for another company?
So no. No, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve left a good legacy behind on both teams, and I’m very comfortable with what I’ve been able to do there.
What was similar to you about the 2006 Bears and 2015 Panthers? For example, I’ve seen people make comparisons between Luke (Kuechly) and Thomas (Davis) to Brian (Urlacher) and Lance (Briggs). What would you note about the two different special Super Bowl seasons?
What I think the similarity was, was the team. The teams were the same. The guys were the same. To make it to the Super Bowl, it’s really about the locker room. You got to have 53 individuals that are on the same page. You know, it’s really about the 11 guys doing one thing, not one guy doing 11 things.
And on the ‘06 Bears and the 2015 Panthers, we developed a culture. It was a culture of family and team. Both teams played for one another. Both teams were about each other. Both teams were selfless. And it wasn’t just the players. It was the coaches. It was the GM’s. It was the entire building. It was the organization as a whole.
In my opinion, that’s what made those two teams very successful. We had a ton of chemistry, a ton of chemistry.
Naturally, in the NFL, you’re never going to have the same locker room twice, which is unfortunate. But I think if we were able to retain the 2006 season multiple times, like every guy on the roster, and on the 2015 Panthers, if we were able to keep those same people - you would’ve seen a little more success the following year.
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Let’s hop over to the Bears now. Not the best season in 2016 at 3-13, and they haven’t made the playoffs in what seems like forever (six seasons). Do you like the direction they’re heading under (general manager) Ryan Pace and (head coach) John Fox?
Well, the last two seasons have been terrible.
But anytime you get a new coach, you have to give him time to build the team up the way he sees it. It’s tough and unfair to give a coach a year. You have to institute your values and your goals, and your vision to the players.
More importantly, the players have to buy what you’re selling. Are the players buying into what you’re saying and what you’re telling them? If they’re not, you have to get those players out and get the players that buy into you.
Sometimes, that takes a little bit of time.
What’s the first aspect that you think they need to focus on to fix their current problems? Are they close? What’s the Tillman “agenda” here?
I think they have to fix the defense. I would say you need another corner and somebody that can rush the passer. And more importantly, you have to get a guy that’s a ballhawk. They have to be able to create turnovers.
I think they only had 11 takeaways?
That’s sad because we led the league in takeaways every single year when Lovie (Smith) was there. Despite our record, we led the league in takeaways. We knew how to take the ball away.
So they need a “Peanut” Tillman, essentially?
No, it wasn’t just Peanut Tillman.
It was Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Nathan Vasher, Tim Jennings, Mike Brown, Chris Harris, Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams, Pisa Tinoisamoa.
It was all those guys.
And all those guys were killing it in the takeaway department.
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You’re with FOX, so you still keep a close eye on the league. Bears aside, was this past season’s Super Bowl between the Falcons and Patriots the craziest finish you’ve ever seen on the big stage?
Hands-down, most definitely, hell yeah.
I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. I think Tom Brady and Bill Belichick should automatically be inducted into the Hall of Fame right now while they’re still playing and actively coaching. That was insane. Two touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and a field goal, yeah.
I saw a meme the other day, and it showed a picture of Tom Brady. It was like: “Dude, it’s the fourth quarter, third quarter, second half. You’re down two touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and a field goal. We’re out of it.”
And I think Tom Brady goes, “Hold my beer,” and he goes out and does what he does. That was amazing.
I’m a fan of the game. But to be there and watch it, I didn’t care who won. I wasn’t rooting for anyone. But I love to see just good competition and good football. They brought that to the NFL.
I think with the fans, if you were there or if you were at home, it was great for football.
More than anything, I’m happy for the New England Patriots because of how they did it and how they won it. They never buckled. They were calm throughout the whole game, even though they had their butts kicked in the first half. They just came back in the second half with a short memory, forgot about it, and were able to bounce back and play as a team.
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Who in your mind, in either a rising player or relatively established corner, most reminds you of a young “Peanut” Tillman? The guy that has you saying, “Hey, that looked familiar.”
Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs. He is; I mean, I don’t think he’s a rising star. I believe he is a star.
And I love his ability to take away the football. He creates takeaways. I’m old school, and it’s not just about interceptions. It’s about getting the ball in interceptions or forcing fumbles, punching the ball out, whatever. He’s always around the ball, and he’s also an excellent tackler.
You can tell you have a tough team if your corners can tackle. I like Peters’ style of play. He’s not afraid to be physical and get in there and make a play in the backfield.
How do you want people to remember Charles Tillman? You’re content with your “legacy,” what you did in the NFL, and what you’ve done as a man at home. But how do you want people to remember you?
I was a guy that just came to work and did my job. I was a goofball. I loved to have fun, playing jokes and pranks on everyone. But when it was time to work, he worked and did his job. More importantly, he was just a good teammate.
He was a real good teammate.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.