The Chicago Bears have only made me cry once.
Throw something? Sure.
Curse? More than my fair share.
Actual tears in the eyes that needed to be wiped away? Just the one time.
September 14, 2014, a memorable night for the Bears against the 49ers. The Sunday Night Football crew called the first-ever game at the newly built Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The Bears, down 20-7 to start the 4th quarter, mounted one of the biggest comebacks in team history highlighted by rookie Kyle Fuller’s first two career interceptions. But the joy of a comeback victory felt hollow. A pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.
That is because Charles Tillman watched the comeback from the sidelines, re-injuring his right triceps that cost him the end of the 2013 season. The Bears placed Tillman on injured reserve just two days later, effectively ending his Bears career.
The lasting image from that game for me will always be the shot of Tillman on the sidelines, soaking in the diagnosis, watching the action with tears in his eyes. At that moment, many Bears fans realized with him that this was the last we’d see of Peanut in Navy and Orange. When that realization hit my cerebral cortex, an involuntary reaction sent an order for water to escape through my eyes.
I watched an exciting comeback win with melancholy and infinite sadness. My favorite player would play no more.
Tillman held the spot of “my favorite player” on the active roster for most of his career, but it was through a few Bears history projects that I realized not only is Charles Tillman my favorite defensive back in team history, he’s my favorite Bears player of all-time. Number 33 for the Bears handled his business on and off the field with class and played the game in a way never seen before. The cover skills, playmaking ability, and ferocity in attacking the football added up to a combination with very few comparisons in the history of the game. The dude just made plays. From ripping the ball away from the great Randy Moss to seal a victory to the nine defensive TDs to the amazing forced fumble records, his game was special.
I think many of you agree. I asked Twitter for their favorite DB in the last 20 years and Tillman earned 80% of the vote, beating out Mike Brown (11%), Kyle Fuller (5%), and Eddie Jackson (4%). With all due respect to Gary Fencik and Richie Petitbon, I think Tillman would win the majority of Bears fans in a 101-year history vote too.
I’ve had many favorite Bears players on the active roster over the years. Some fade away once they retire or move on, while others still hold a warm glow in my heart. Tillman’s glow grows as time moves on, as more people come to appreciate what he gave the game in uniform and what he continues to give the world as an excellent human being away from it.
To show my appreciation for my all-time favorite Chicago Bear, I will post a series of articles today to help tell the story of the greatest defensive back in team history, Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
Who is your favorite defensive back of all time? Answer below in the comments or find me on Twitter @gridironborn.