When Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury Sept. 14 in a Sunday night win over the San Francisco 49ers, his coaches and teammates felt his pain.
Tillman sustained a torn right triceps when he pushed a 49ers receiver during a running play in the third quarter. He bent over and immediately grabbed his arm, and later shed a tear on the bench. It was the same exact injury that ended Tillman’s season last November after nine games.
“This is a really tough one,” said coach Marc Trestman, “No. 1 because of the impact he has on our football team on and off the field and he’s played at such a high level the first two weeks. He was everywhere and he was physical making tackles and doing all the things that you would expect him to do. And then knowing the work that he put in to getting himself ready again, that’s tough to see.”
Since joining the Bears in 2003 as a second-round draft pick from Louisiana-Lafayette, Tillman has become one of the best defensive players in team history, setting franchise records with nine defensive touchdowns, eight interception return TDs and 675 interception return yards.
“It’s really tough for a guy like Peanut who works so hard and has so much attention to detail,” said right guard Kyle Long. “He’s been doing it for so long. He’s a staple here at Halas Hall. To see him go down and see the emotions that he was showing immediately after the injury was really tough.”
Longtime teammate Lance Briggs, who was part of the same Bears draft class as Tillman in 2003, addressed the injury to his close friend on his weekly TV show on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
“I could probably spend this whole show talking about Peanut and what he’s meant not only to the Bears and the city but what he’s meant to me,” Briggs said. “It’s just tough.”
Former Bears receiver and cornerback Rashied Davis also spoke about Tillman on Briggs’ show.
“It was heartbreaking to see him on TV and see the tears streaming down his face,” said Davis, Tillman’s teammate with the Bears from 2005-10. “It reminded me of my last year getting hurt and having the same injury that I had the year before. I’m sure he was thinking, ‘This is the same thing I rehabbed. I did all of this work to get back, I’m playing well and now [my season] is over.’ And then also being on the latter end of his career, he’s probably contemplating what’s next.”
The player that has replaced Tillman in the Bears’ starting lineup, rookie first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller, said that he hated to see his veteran teammate suffer a season-ending injury. Asked what he’s learned from Tillman, Fuller said: “Really just seeing the way he plays the game, the things that he does out there on the field, the way he carries himself, the things he does in the meeting rooms, there’s so much that you can take from a guy like him.”
Tillman’s 36 career interceptions are the most by a cornerback in Bears history and third most overall behind safeties Gary Fencik (38) and Richie Petitbon (37).
The first Bears cornerback to be selected to back-to-back Pro Bowls, Tillman is the only NFL player with at least 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles since he entered the league. During that span he ranks second in forced fumbles, tied for fifth in interceptions and interception return yards, sixth in passes defensed and tied for second in interception return TDs.
In addition, Tillman was selected the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year primarily for his work with the Cornerstone Foundation, a non-profit organization he founded in 2005 that has raised more than $1 million. The prestigious Man of the Year Award is the only league honor that recognizes a player's community service as well as his playing excellence.