Baffoe: End Of Peanut Would Make The Bears Way Too Plain
By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Peanut M&Ms are so much better than plain ones that there isn't even a debate over the two. Putting the peanut in the chocolate completely changes the dynamic, changes the very candy itself to where the plain version is so blandly ordinary and rightfully taken for granted. Plains are destined for bowls groped by germy community fingers, while the peanut ones stay in a special drawer to be appreciated. The peanut is the un-M&M.
The Charles "Peanut" Tillman appeal has long been that he is such an un-football player. Most football players are just so un-Peanut, taking up the large bowl of the NFL and being passed around from team to team and fanbase to fanbase. While the NFL's been riddled for so long with plenty of the plain-flavored circular gladiator caricatures, that has never been the ovular Bears cornerback with the peanut inside who has spent all 11-plus of his seasons in Chicago.
After Tillman ruptured his right triceps in Sunday's win at San Francisco, an injury that will prematurely end Tillman's season for the second year in a row, Bears fans and the Pro Bowler are faced with the reality that No. 33 may never again line up across an opponent's top receiver again. It was a worrisome possibility this past offseason before the Bears and Tillman agreed to a one-year deal that gave him a final chance for him to get that elusive Super Bowl ring. Now, it's practically fait accompli as the machine that is an NFL franchise refuses to stop for any sentimentality.
That it's again the triceps is so sadly poetic. Tillman established himself in his rookie year as one of the game's most physical corners, making sure that off the snap a receiver was getting hard shots into his arms and torso before even thinking to look for a pass. When the league tweaked the rules to favor passing, Tillman adapted in the face of worry that was he was drafted for what would become obsolete. The opposing receiver was always getting more of a workout than most were ready for and certainly some bruises afterward.
And should that foe catch one, then came the prospect of the trademark Peanut Punch.
The key part of Tillman's body that helped make him the outstanding player he is has once again failed him.
He insists that nothing is over yet, but you can't help but wonder.
"I appreciate the kind words of encouragement and support from all the Bears fans who have reached out to me," Tillman said in a statement. "I know this feeling way too well, but this isn't the end of the road for me. As I rehab my injury, my role will transition to helping coach and support my teammates. I will be at Halas Hall and do everything I can to help our team reach its goals."
To see the tearful stare in his eyes Sunday night on the sidelines was to see a man coming to terms with his football mortality.
It was nearly impossible to not get misty-eyed seeing that, too, mostly because it was such a shock. Typically athletes cry when they know it's over, but Peanut has never been typical. He hates talk of stats and records despite accumulating his fair share of them. He ranks third in franchise history in interceptions with 36 and has more interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine) than any Bear ever.
No defensive back has forced more fumbles than Tillman since he came into the league, and his 42 are the second-most of any player in that time. Since the league started keeping forced fumble statistics in 1991, only Tillman and the retired Brian Dawkins have had 30-plus interceptions and 30-plus forced fumbles in a career.
More than once, Tillman has flat out said that he doesn't care for football if he's not playing it. When he retires, according to him, he's getting completely away from the game. If true, Peanut the personality will be missed as much as Peanut the player.
Refreshing is the athlete that breaks the meathead stereotype. Tillman would rather do an interview about movies or music than X's and O's. Selfishly, I would love Tillman to pursue a career in broadcasting even though he doesn't want it. He's scheduled to do a few radio shows with Laurence Holmes this season, and anyone who has heard those two talk to each other has also heard how funny, affable and wise Peanut is on air. He hijacks interviews and shows, as Holmes would say. He tells sports anchors on air that they "look like a sex-on-the-beach guy" and up and decides to do the weather report.
And while a complete goofball, Tillman is an incredible father and humanitarian, an example not to just fans but to a league that's currently amid crisis and a plague of less-than-quality individuals making the headlines. That gets a guy a street named after him in his hometown. It also gets him the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, something that — as much as NFL PR would like to pretend is representative of what the league stands for — is so very un-football. And along with that award, Tillman showed genuine emotion typical only of the rare football player who values work off the field as much as on it.
Eight months ago, prior to re-signing with Chicago, Peanut told Holmes and the listening audience,"In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that."
He will keep his word. His credibility is too well-established to not think so. Very un-football. And the world of the Chicago Bears and their fans will be a heck of a lot more boring when he's gone, less cosmopolitan, less funny, less creative and less dynamic.
Too plain. Too un-Peanut.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.
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