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Tillman enjoying Pro Bowl experience
January 25th, 2013

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyFor Charles Tillman, escaping Chicago’s frigid weather to spend a week in Hawaii isn’t necessarily the best thing about preparing to play in his second straight Pro Bowl.

The chance to spend quality time with his family as well as three Bears teammates is what has made this week’s experience so special for the veteran cornerback.

“I’m doing a lot of swimming with my kids,” Tillman said. “All we do is hang out in the sun and swim all day. That’s all they want to do is the beach. I couldn’t tell you how many sandcastles I’ve built. It’s been a great time for me to bond with my family considering the season’s so long.”

The season may have been long, but it was a productive one for Tillman. He became the first Bears cornerback to be voted to back-to-back Pro Bowls after tying for the NFL lead with three interception return touchdowns and topping the league with a career-high 10 forced fumbles, tied for the most since the NFL started tracking the stat in 1991.

Tillman now has forced 39 fumbles since he entered the league in 2003 as a second-round draft pick with the Bears, the most by any NFL player regardless of position during that span.

Playing for head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, Tillman helped the Bears lead the NFL with 44 takeaways in 2012.

Their accomplishments evidently were recognized by their peers given that Tillman was one of four Bears defenders voted to start in Sunday’s Pro Bowl. The others are fellow cornerback Tim Jennings, end Julius Peppers and tackle Henry Melton. Another Bears player—receiver Brandon Marshall—had to pull out of the game after recently undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery.

“It’s awesome [to have so many Bears players at the Pro Bowl],” Tillman said. “I wish that Brandon was here as well to make it five. For four of us to be starting on defense, that’s a huge honor in itself. It says a lot about our defense and a lot about coach Smith and Rod Marinelli.”

On Thursday, the NFC and AFC squads practiced at a Pearl Harbor military base in front of thousands of service members and their families. No one enjoyed the experience more than Tillman, who grew up in a military family and has always given back to U.S. troops.

Tillman is one of two finalists for the NFL’s 2012 Salute to Service Award, which recognizes those who honor and support members of the military community. His father, Army Sergeant Donald Tillman Jr., is retired after 20 years of service.

“It was great,” Tillman said. “Going back to a military base is always fun for me, considering what my dad did and living on a base and what the military has provided for my family. It’s always great to go spread love to the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen and the Marines. It’s always an honor.”

Throughout the week, Tillman has enjoyed getting to know some of his NFC teammates. He’s spent time chatting with Giants receiver Victor Cruz, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Falcons receiver Julio Jones, Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, among others.

After both teams played with little effort in last year’s Pro Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has threatened to cancel the game if there’s a repeat performance Sunday. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has spent the week imploring players to give full effort.

“I think the quality of play will be a lot better this year just based on meetings and what commissioner Goodell has said,” Tillman said. “Going to the Pro Bowl is an honor, it’s special and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“I feel like we hold the key to what will happen in the future with the Pro Bowl, and I feel that we owe it to our peers to play at a high level so in future years after we’ve all retired, other guys will be able to go to the Pro Bowl. It’s not about us. It’s a tradition. It’s something that’s gone on for a while and I don’t want to be part of wrecking it.”