Paul Eide interviews Chicago Bears All-Pro Charles Tillman on breast cancer, Deion Sanders and his Halloween costume
Charles Tillman is so good, you take him for granted. Even during an 11-year career as a member of some of the fiercest defenses in NFL history, his consistent production and greatness are rarely recognized outside of Chicago.
“Peanut” owns the Bears’ career records for defensive touchdowns (9), interceptions returned for touchdowns (8) and forced fumbles (39). Thanks to his signature move the “Peanut Punch,” his 10 forced fumbles last year set an NFL single-season record, and the four fumbles he forced in a game against the Titans a year ago is the all-time single game record. His 36 career interceptions are just two away from tying Gary Fencik for the Bears’ franchise record.
With two Pro Bowl selections and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI, Tillman’s overall body of work solidifies him as the best cornerback in the history of the Chicago Bears and potentially as the most disruptive defensive back of all-time.
You’re working with Proctor & Gamble on a campaign for breast cancer awareness. Tell me about that.
I partnered with P&G to encourage women to have an early detection plan with breast cancer. And, for the men in their lives, to motivate the women in their lives to create a plan. Everyone talks about how October is breast cancer awareness month. We have pink gloves, pink shoes, pink wrist bands, but it doesn’t just end there. Breast cancer doesn’t wait; it comes when it wants to. And you shouldn’t wait. Go to PGEveryday.com/bca and get the app. This app will give you notifications that you need to go see your doctor this month, or get a checkup another time, and it gives you a reminder to have an early detection plan. If breast cancer is detected early enough, there’s a 98% survival rate. I’m not a math guy, but I will take those odds.
You’re the most physical corner in the NFL, which for some reason is very rare in the game; to have a real physical corner that can stop the run and jam receivers at the line. Why is that? Why are so many corners soft, and can we blame Deion Sanders for that?
No, I don’t think you can blame Deion for that. I think it’s just what is required of our defense. And it’s not just me; my other Pro Bowl corner Tim Jennings… he and I are in the same boat. I think there are a lot of physical corners, not just to name myself and Tim. But I think what makes ours more evident is the type of defense that we play. It’s required that our corners make tackles and make plays.
One thing I didn’t realize was how much you traveled as a kid and in your younger life. How has that shaped you as a football player and the way you approach life?
One of the biggest reasons I think I am the way I am is because we moved around a lot. When we moved around a lot, I was just thrown into situations. Example being, I remember one year we left Kansas and moved to Germany. And when I got to this new school, they were doing division. My old school we were just starting to do division but it was going to be in the spring. The new school was already doing division, so I was the kid who had to catch it on the fly. I think that’s how I react to life. I do everything on the fly.
Defense is on the fly, it’s reactive; you have to react to the offense. I have to prevent someone from doing something when they want to do it. Offensively, they know what they’re going to do. Defensively, we don’t have any idea what they’re doing. I definitely think moving around helped shape me and has helped me be a better player.
Speaking of reacting to things you can’t predict, I wanted to talk about the Bears’ 2006 season. Going to the Super Bowl was totally unexpected and the team just had a fantastic year. Can you talk about that year in general and the Super Bowl specifically?
The 2006 season was a special year. We had a great group of guys, a remarkable group of young men who pushed the limit. And really, we had no limit. There was no game we were in doubt of. One of my fondest memories of playing in the NFL was the Arizona Monday Night Football game that we came back and won. It’s my best moment as a professional athlete. There was just something special about us in that game and it wasn’t just the game, it’s how we thought the entire year; that we were unstoppable, unbeatable. Being in the Super Bowl, obviously we lost, but it was a great experience, memories that I’ll take with me the rest of my life. We did something a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to experience.
As far as the Arizona game, even as a fan watching on TV, you could just feel that you guys were taking over. The feeling that you were going to make something happen and win the game was palpable. Do you feel that on the field as well? Is everyone aware of it?
One of the things that stick out to me in that game was at halftime. Olin Kruetz came in the locker room and said, “Hey, buckle your helmets, it’s gonna get physical. We will win this game. I promise you guys we will win this game.” And it’s kind of surreal because they have it on film as he’s saying it and you can feel, literally feel it as he’s saying it. The mind is a powerful tool. It truly was a phenomenal moment, a hell of a year. Great coaches, great staff, great teammates. There was nothing bad about that team that year. It was just perfect in every way.
A play that defines your career for a lot of Bears fans happened in your rookie season against Randy Moss in 2003. With the game on the line, you snatched the ball out of his hands in the end zone to seal the victory, in Rex Grossman’s first career start. How did that play materialize, and what were you thinking in that moment?
Randy Moss was notorious for going up and just catching balls; picking it off and catching it at its highest point. It was backside, he was the only receiver backside, I was a rookie, you do the math; I knew the ball was coming to him. So I just knew that I had to be more physical than him. And, yeah, I came down with the ball.
What keeps your fire going and gives you the desire to play hard every game?
Competition. I hate losing. I like to compete. I think competition brings out the best in anybody; me, you, whoever. I’m sure if one of your bosses came to you and said, “Hey, you and Person X are going to have a competition. Whoever wins gets their own show, plus a million dollar bonus.” I’m sure you’re gonna go out there and bust your ass and do everything you can to win.
CT, we both know already who’s gonna win that.
I’m the same way! I hate to lose. And when I do lose, I don’t lose the lesson, I don’t miss the message. Competition man, it’s great. I think everyone needs competition in life, whether it be myself, you, the President. You look at politics; they’re always in competition over an election, who wants to win. It’s just who we are, it’s what we do.
What’s the biggest change in the NFL you’ve seen during your 11-year career?
The rules hindering the defensive players on how they make plays, on how they tackle.
With Halloween tomorrow, are you going to dress up? Are you going to take the kids out?
I’ve got a couple of dinner engagements so the kids can come to my house after.
Well, I was kind of thinking you could go as yourself. Have you thought that? Just throw on a “Tillman” jersey and go door to door. Everyone would be like, “Wow that guy looked just like Charles Tillman!”
That might not be a bad idea! That’s a good one. I never thought about that.
Then you could just play it off when they inevitably ask you if you are Charles Tillman. “No, I’m not Charles Tillman.”
That’s a good one. I might actually do that in my neighborhood. That’s funny.
I think you should. Final question: Do you have a favorite moment or play of your career that sticks out?
By far the Arizona game. Because you play this game for team, this is a team sport. That was the best team moment I’ve ever had in life and it was a great feeling. It will go down, in my opinion, as the greatest I ever played as a Chicago Bear.
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To contact Charles, hit him up on Twitter here.