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Inspired by Blackhawks, Tillman driven to win Super Bowl
July 24th, 2013

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyBears cornerback Charles Tillman isn’t a huge hockey fan. But watching the Chicago Blackhawks win their second Stanley Cup championship in four years last month inspired and motivated him.

“Looking at the Blackhawks play and watching them celebrate and watching the parade, I’m jealous because I want that,” Tillman said during a recent in-studio appearance on WSCR-AM 670. “That’s why you play the game. I think the Blackhawks had two million people [at their parade]. I want five million people on Michigan Avenue celebrating with us.” 

That image is exactly what Tillman will envision during the most trying days of training camp, which begins this week. 

“That’s what I want and that’s what drives you to work hard,” he said. “You get tired. You’re sweating. Your body is sore. It’s hot. Who cares? No one cares. You have to do that in order to accomplish that No. 1 goal, which is winning the Super Bowl.”

Since Tillman joined the Bears in 2003 as a second-round draft pick from Louisiana-Lafayette, the team has won three division championships and one conference title, losing to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI to cap the 2006 season. 

“Mentally I screwed myself because I said I wanted to go to a Super Bowl,” Tillman said. “I should have said ‘I want to win a Super Bowl.’ So that’s my mentality and that’s the mindset of this team. 

“I just want to win a Super Bowl. That’s the bottom line. That’s why I’m busting my ass; trying to win a Super Bowl. I want that parade down Michigan Avenue in February.” 

The Bears begin that quest this week at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais under first-year head coach Marc Trestman. Tillman was not happy when the Bears fired longtime coach Lovie Smith following the 2012 season, but the veteran cornerback has been impressed with Trestman. 

“It’s different,” Tillman said. “The one thing that I will say is his interest is for the team. It’s not just for the offense and it’s not just for the defense; his interest is for the greater good of our team. Every decision he makes there’s always a reason why, and if you don’t know why he’ll tell you.”

Tillman developed a very close bond with Smith both personally and professionally during their nine seasons together and looks forward to working with Trestman. 

“Obviously we don’t have the relationship that coach Smith and I have, but that takes time,” Tillman said. “I can’t say we’ll be best friends in a year or two years. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you how long it took coach Smith and I to be good friends as well as a player and a coach. I don’t think there’s a timetable. I think some guys just bond together faster than others.” 

Trestman was hired by the Bears after spending the last five seasons as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, where he won two Grey Cup championships. Prior to that, he spent 17 seasons in the NFL as an offensive coordinator and position coach.

Trestman is known as a quarterback guru. Under his tutelage, Steve Young helped the 49ers lead the NFL in scoring and passing yards in 1995, the Raiders’ Rich Gannon was named NFL MVP in 2002, and the Alouettes’ Anthony Calvillo won back-to-back league MVP awards in 2008-09. 

The Bears are hoping for similar results with quarterback Jay Cutler. 

“I think coach Trestman will hold Jay accountable for the mistakes that he makes, for the details, and he’ll keep him on point and on task to make the good decisions and he’ll put Jay in situations to make the right choice and the right decision in the games,” Tillman said. 

“For the last nine years, we defensively have been spoiled because the head coach showed us so much attention and so much love because he was a defensive-minded head coach. With that being said, I think it will be slightly opposite. I think the offense will get more of the attention, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I still definitely think we’ll be good on defense.” 

While the offense is being totally revamped, the defensive scheme will remain virtually the same under new coordinator Mel Tucker. That should enable Tillman and fellow veterans such as Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Tim Jennings to build on last season’s success, when they helped the Bears lead the NFL with 44 takeaways and score nine defensive touchdowns, tied for the second most in NFL history.

Of course, Tillman is certain that cynics will question whether the defense can excel with so many star players over the age of 30, himself included. 

“I’ve heard it a lot,” said the 32-year-old, whose two career Pro Bowl appearances have both come after he turned 30. “I hate to lose and a part of my motivation is when someone tells me I can’t do anything. I like to use that to motivate me to show that person—the naysayer, the hater—that I still have what it takes to be in this league.”