Always a Bear: The Life and Career of Charles “Peanut” Tillman

By Bryan Dietzler

The Chicago Bears have had a lot of great players since they became an NFL franchise back in 1920.  Some of those players have been talked about on this website.  Guys like Gale Sayers, Walter Payton and Dick Butkus are etched in the Bear’s lore and will never be forgotten.  There are great guys and not so great guys.  There were stars born the moment that the first ball was thrown many years ago.  And there are stars rising on the Bears right now.

In the past few years, the Bears have had some pretty solid players.  Guys like Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown come to mind.  Those three were players that helped get the Bears to their second Super Bowl in 2006.  Unfortunately they lost to the Indianapolis Colts.

There is one player that we can’t forget about who made a big impact on the Bears during his career in Chicago.  Not only was he a fine player on the field but he was a great person off it and has been recognized for that.  And even now, after his football career has ended, this person continues to make a big impact on the community.

That former Chicago Bear is Charles Tillman, better known to Bear’s fans as “Peanut”.

Tillman was born on February 23, 1981 in the city he would eventually play a majority of his career in, Chicago.  His father was in the United States Army so the family moved around quite often.  He attended 11 different schools while he was growing up.

His family stayed in one place long enough for Tillman to graduate from high school at Copperas Cove High School in Copperas Cove, Texas.  While he was there he played football and was named as an all-area team selection as well as a two time All-District 8-5A member.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette recruited Tillman and he played his college ball there.  He was a cornerback and started all four years he was with the Ragin Cajuns.

Draft time came and Tillman was one of the more sought after cornerback prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft.  The Chicago Bears took Tillman with the 35th pick in the draft as a second rounder.  In his first season with the team, he made his way into the starting lineup and was very productive having four interceptions and 83 tackles.  Tillman was a little banged up in his second season but returned to register 93 tackles and five interceptions in his third season in Chicago.

The 2006 season was a huge one for the Bears and Tillman was a big part of the success that they had.  He had the most tackles in the league for a defensive back with 80.  Tillman snagged five passes from opposing quarterbacks and forced one fumble.  He did have some injury problems as the season came to a close but was ready for the Bears second Super Bowl appearance against the Colts.

That game, a 29-17 loss for the Bears was a good one for Tillman, at least statistically. He had 11 total tackles and was all over the field.

In 2007, Chicago gave Tillman a new contract that would make him a Bear for another six seasons.  That year also saw him nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.  But, he didn’t win it, yet.

One of his biggest “game” accomplishments for Tillman came in a November 2007 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Tillman forced three fumbles and his teammates recovered two of them.  Bears fans will always remember the famous “Peanut Punch”. This is a move, perfected by Tillman, where he would come behind the ball carrier and start to tackle them with one hand while he punched at the ball with another.  He was successful doing this and caused a total of 44 forced fumbles in his career.

Following the 2009 NFL season, Tillman was voted to his first Pro Bowl.  He probably deserved additional Pro Bowl visits prior to his first. But that’s a debate for another day.

In 2012, Tillman earned the Bears record for most touchdown returns by a defensive player with eight. In addition to that, he earned a second Pro Bowl trip along with a spot on the All-Pro team as a first team cornerback.

Unfortunately for Tillman and the Bears, his 2013 season ended early as suffered from a torn biceps injury in the tenth week of the season.  He missed the rest of the year.  It was a blow to the Bears and to Tillman but hopes were high that he would be able to return the following season and step right back in again.

The season wasn’t a total loss for Tillman however. Following the end of the season, in February, he was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his efforts in the community.  In remembering the video that they showed of Tillman’s charitable actions, I remember it to be very touching.  His work in the community is very special and very much needed.

Chicago brought Tillman back on a one year contract in 2014 but his season ended in week two with another injury, this time to his triceps.

The Bears didn’t bring him back after the 2014 season so he went on to sign with the Carolina Panthers.  He participated in every game for the Panthers during their run to the Super Bowl in the regular season.  But, in their last game of the regular season, he tore his ACL.  He missed the playoffs and the Super Bowl as a result.  He missed his chance to get a Super Bowl ring too as the Panthers lost to the Denver Broncos 24-10.

In July of 2016, Tillman decided to hang his cleats up for good.  Some people wondered if he was going to retire as a Chicago Bear.  Was there any question? No.  Tillman, like most players who moved on  after playing with the same team for a long time, signed a one year contract with Chicago.  He retired as a Chicago Bear.

It’s interesting to note what Tillman did outside of football that earned him the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.  Tillman has his Cornerstone Foundation which assists children who are very ill to help get them the care and comfort they need at a critical moment in their life.

This organization is near and dear to Tillman because his daughter had a heart problem when she was very young.  In fact, she is the inspiration for his foundation.  Happily, Tillman’s daughter is alive and doing very well today.

Tillman’s post career exploits have taken him to the desk of Fox Sports football coverage.  He can be found teaming up with former Bear Anthony Adams on some of Adams’ videos.  He can also be seen on commercials in Chicago and is very active on Facebook.

His life in the military, with his family, brought him close to our brothers and sisters in arms.  He participates in several events with military members and has spent some time overseas with troops deployed in various places.

Tillman will forever be remembered as one of the most consistent and productive defenders in Chicago Bears history.  He has etched himself in Bears lore and will forever be remembered as our favorite Bear, Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

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