Artist creates mural in honor of Pat Tillman

Artist Mike Sullivan gave us an up-close look at the mockup of a mural he designed that is on display at the newly renamed Pat Tillman Middle School.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 6:42 AM MST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2023 at 9:09 AM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — As we get ready for the 19th annual Pat’s Run, we have been bringing you stories about Pat Tillman and his legacy. Pat’s Run raises $1 million annually to support the Tillman Scholars program. Those scholars work to keep his legacy alive. Another way people continue to learn about Pat is through art.

Artist Mike Sullivan gave us an up-close look at the mockup of a mural he designed that is on display at the newly renamed Pat Tillman Middle School. “I wanted to create something that would inspire kids of Pat’s example and since the school was named after him, a lot of people may be familiar with Pat’s story would say, ‘Who was Pat Tillman?’” shared Sullivan.

This was not, however, Sullivan’s first mural dedicated to Tillman. It’s his second. The first was completed shortly after Tillman died and was installed in the original Tillman Tunnel at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe before the start of the next football season.

“I was working with a sports agency in Orange County and one of the heads of the agency played against Pat in High School. And I told him my idea I want to start doing murals in stadiums. And he felt one of Pat would be very deserving at Sun Devil Stadium,” said Sullivan.

The humble hometown hero gave up his pro football career to enlist after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan 19 years ago this month.

Everyone was on board and Sullivan got to work. “Whenever I start a mural, I always do a pencil drawing outline to show the client or the university what the mural’s going to look like and I remember going to meetings with the head coach who was Dirk Koetter at the time and he looked at my drawing and said,’ Mike, this only tells half the story.’”

In addition to his talent on the field, Tillman earned a bachelor of sciences in marketing, graduating summa cum lade from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business in three and a half years. In his offseason, Tillman pursued a master’s degree in history from his alma mater and also volunteered with Boys and Girls Clubs, the March of Dimes and read and talked to students in schools all around the Valley. “He just saw life a different way. And I’ve talked to Jake Plummer, his quarterback, his teammates, his family members, and what I liked about him was similar being an artist. He was always curious about things. He always wanted to study, learn more. Always wanted to know the other person’s perspective,” said Sullivan.

Although Sullivan never got the chance to meet Tillman in person, he does think that Tillman would be proud of all the work the more than 800 Tillman Scholars do each and every day. “I think he would have a good feeling that his name or his example have helped the Tillman Scholars and students and young people,” said Sullivan.

It was Tillman’s drive to help others and his humble nature that stood out to Sullivan. “What really struck me was that he wouldn’t do any interviews when he announced he was going into the service because he felt he wasn’t any better or worse than any other man or woman serving our country,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan is a nationally known artist. The Tillman mural was the first of many Sullivan has designed, including one of Jackie Robinson at Jackie Robinson Stadium at UCLA. Upcoming murals include other top colleges, top high schools, as well as several professional sports arenas and stadiums.