Terrelle Smith Remembers Pat Tillman

Aug. 3, 2004

AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio - Pat Tillman was a personal hero to Terrelle Smith long before he died an American one. With a generous, selfless act on a sweltering day in Arizona a few years ago, Smith learned lessons in loyalty, commitment and brotherhood from Tillman.

Smith, the Cleveland Browns (news)' new fullback, has many fond memories of Tillman, the former Cardinals safety who was killed April 22 in Afghanistan (news - web sites) with the U.S. Army Rangers.

One special remembrance stands out. As the Arizona State teammates were going through a conditioning workout, an exhausted Smith passed out only to be rescued by Tillman.

'He carried me all the way through the drill,' the 255-pound Smith said. 'He's a true hero. He represents a lot.'

Smith, like many Americans, was distraught after learning of Tillman's death, which the U.S. military recently said was the likely result of friendly fire.

Tillman's death still haunts Smith, who occasionally finds himself pondering his friend's fate at the age of 27.

'Sometimes I have to keep my composure out here,' Smith said. 'I knew him well enough to where it's more than just football. My life is about football, he went on and did something else. I can't stand the fact that he's not able to come back and return to the NFL because of what happened.'

Smith thinks Tillman would discourage him from those type of thoughts.

'He would be upset for me to feel that way,' Smith said. 'He was a natural-born soldier. He always told me, 'Enjoy your time while it's here.''

When he signed as a free agent with the Browns in March, Smith was given No. 42 - coincidentally Tillman's number at Arizona State. Smith had wanted to wear No. 44, his number for four seasons with the New Orleans Saints (news).

However, 44 already belonged to second-year running back Lee Suggs. Smith considered trading with Suggs, but decided to keep it after Tillman was killed.

Smith now proudly wears 42, and as he slips over his shoulder pads each day he is reminded of his close friend who sacrificed so much for so many.

'When I put it on, it makes me want to play for something,' Smith said. 'The guy displayed so much pride and joy.'

Smith has already had a profound impact - literally - since joining the Browns, who haven't had a punishing blocker like him in their backfield for years.

It's been easy to spot Smith on the field during training camp. Just look for where the orange helmets are stacked up.

'There's no mystery to what Terrelle Smith is about,' coach Butch Davis said. 'He doesn't profess to be fancy or a friendly type of guy. He is a hit-you-in-the-mouth kind of fullback. That's his calling card.'

The Browns haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 1985 when Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner cracked the plateau. Smith could help Cleveland end that drought this season, clearing paths for Suggs and William Green.

In New Orleans, Smith opened holes for Ricky Williams and Deuce McAllister, helping them become perennial 1,000-yard runners. He knows his job and he loves it.

'I'm a people mover,' he said.

And a consummate team player, willing to sacrifice himself by throwing a crushing block so his teammate can slither through the line for a big gain.

Team first, the same philosophy Tillman lived by, played by and died upholding. Tillman's passing has taught Smith never to assume tomorrow or his next play.

'I can't take this for granted,' Smith said. 'I've got to work hard for every dollar, every penny, every yard, everything you ever want to work for.'

The last time he saw Tillman, Smith praised his friend for following his heart and carrying through with his plan to serve his country.

'I said, 'Pat, you're kind of crazy doing that,'' Smith said. 'He said, 'I'm not as crazy as you are on the field.' That was the last time I spoke to him.

'That means so much to me. The guy was a great guy.'