Tillman: ‘You saw me turn into a man in front of your own eyes’
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) makes a touchdown reception in front of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Chicago. The Lions won 21-19. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) — Charles Rex Arbogast
LAKE FOREST – Whether former cornerback Charles Tillman is a future Hall of Fame inductee will be decided later on, but the franchise’s all-time leader in forced fumbles (44) and defensive touchdowns (8) left his mark on the league.
The iconic “Peanut Punch” will still likely resonate even when he’s gone.
A cheerful, candid Tillman signed a one-day contract and officially retired as a member of the Bears – the team he spent his first 12 seasons playing for — at a ceremonial press conference attended by his four kids and wife inside Halas Hall Friday afternoon.
“I’m just gonna try to separate the man away from the ball the best way I know how. That’s not with my shoulder pads. That’s with my fists,” Tillman said of his signature “peanut punch.”
“If there’s one regret I have, it’s that I wasn’t the first one to make the 40-40 (forced fumbles and interceptions) club,” said Tillman, who came just two interceptions short. As a Bear, Tillman had 36 interceptions – third in franchise history.
Tillman, the Bears’ second-round pick in 2003 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, is grateful for former Bears area scout, Chris Ballard, who advocated for a little-known prospect to be drafted high, but the faith invested paid off.
“You saw me turn into a man in front of your own eyes,” Tillman said, sharing a story of a past interaction with former player development director and personnel executive Dwayne Joseph, who he said taught him how to be a professional. “You’re a CEO, and you need to conduct yourself in the manner of a CEO,” Tillman remembered from Joseph.
Tillman reminisced about memories of joining the organization, and facing the Vikings and wide receiver Randy Moss in a 2003 contest came to mind. “I think (the game) really just showed the world that I could play with anybody. I had a chip on my shoulder cause I was this young kid that no one knew about…I wanted people to know I could play with anybody despite going to a smaller Division I school,” Tillman said.
Tillman is slated to begin his next chapter as part of the Fox NFK Kickoff pregame coverage on Sundays. He ruled out NFL coaching, but he’s open to coaching his children. With 152 starts in a Bears uniform, his efforts leave him fourth in Bears history with 737 tackles, 201 more than the next corner (Donnell Woolford) on the list.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Tillman’s length at 6-foot-2 helped paved the way for high-profile matchups against former NFC foe and recently retired Lions wideout Calvin Johnson Jr –matchups that Tillman said made him a better player. Now, he has Johnson’s jersey hanging in his man cave.
“I think Calvin definitely made me a better player. I didn’t win every battle – nor did he – but I think him and I both played the game with respect. Nothing but respect for that guy.,” Tillman said.
Tillman left the Bears after 12 seasons and reunited with Ron Rivera, his former defensive coordinator from 2004-06, in Carolina last season. Appearing in 12 games (two starts) Tillman’s final season ended with a torn ACL, his third major injury since 2013 after two triceps tears in 2013 and 2014. But Tillman still found his way back to Chicago, home of some of the NFL’s better defenses over the past decade.
Tillman rattled off a slew of 12 high-profile names that helped him become a better football player. Tillman said when former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was around, they had the “best D-Line in the business.”
“If you had to do a top-10 defense in the last 50 years, I think you’ll see the Chicago Bears on that list. I’m just glad to have my name associated with greatness,” Tillman said.