CHARLOTTE – Cornerback
He’s no longer able to contribute between the lines, but he’s still a valuable member of the 15-1 Panthers, a team that has meant so much to him.
"It’s always a hard pill to swallow," said Tillman, who will undergo surgery to repair his torn ACL on Wednesday. "But this team has been amazing. It’s the only thing keeping me going. I like being at practice, I like being around this group of men. I think we have something special. I’m excited to be a part of this."
For weeks, Tillman had known his right knee was vulnerable. But he was determined to give his team everything he had until he couldn’t go any longer. His ACL tore in the regular season finale.
"I knew the potential risk of my ACL tearing completely, but I’m in it to win it," Tillman said. "My spirits are high, I’m optimistic about my recovery, I’m optimistic about the postseason.
"It’s not about me. We have a next guy up mentality."
The Panthers lost a veteran starting cornerback, but they gained a knowledgeable assistant coach eager to help his fellow defensive backs in any way possible.
"I’m looking forward to Seattle and being on the sideline and being Coach Tillman. I’ll be the best teammate that I can be – the best cheerleader that I can be, more than anything," Tillman said.
The 34-year-old Tillman has had his season cut short by injury each of the last three years, leaving many to wonder if he’s played his last down in the NFL.
But that’s a decision that will ultimately be made when his recovery is complete.
"I don’t think that far ahead. I think in the now," Tillman said. "Surgery and rehabbing are my new opponents. I plan on being victorious like I have been in the past with previous injuries. We’ll see how I feel with recovery. Then I’ll go from there."