Forget unsuspecting NFL wide receivers. The next guy Charles Tillman executes the “Peanut Punch” on might be a fugitive running from the law.
The former Chicago Bears cornerback recently began training to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, multiple individuals told the Tribune, including a high-ranking law enforcement source who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Tillman, 36, retired from the NFL last summer and signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Bears to do so on July 22, 2016. He played 12 of his 13 seasons for the organization and helped the Panthers to a 15-1 record and appearance in Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season.
He was renowned for his ability to jar the ball loose from offensive players and forced 44 fumbles during his career, nearly twice as many as the next closest defensive back during his time in the league. Tillman was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was named the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013 for his philanthropic efforts.
He is considered one of the best cornerbacks in Bears history.
FBI guidelines mandate prospective candidates for hiring as a special agent must be at least 23 years old but younger than 37 at the time of appointment. Tillman turns 37 on Feb. 23.
“We don’t speak about personnel matters,” special agent Garrett Croon, a spokesman for the Chicago bureau, told the Tribune.
Tillman earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette before the Bears drafted him in the second round in 2003. He grew up in a military family — his father, Donald Tillman Jr., was a sergeant in the Army — and attended 11 schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Tillman not only supports children’s charities through his Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, he also has long been active in military endeavors. In 2010, he spent eight days on a USO tour visit with troops in Iraq and Kuwait. He was selected as the winner of the NFL’s Salute to Service award in 2012.
Tillman received the largest contract paid to a cornerback in Bears history when he signed a six-year, $40.55 million extension in 2007. That deal expired in 2013 and he re-signed for $3.25 million in 2014 before his final season with the Panthers, when he reunited with coach Ron Rivera on a one-year, $3.05 million deal.
Tillman worked for Fox Sports on the “Fox NFL Kickoff” show last season in his first year of retirement. He has traded a post-football career in television for law enforcement.
Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt, who remains a fixture on that Fox show, was aware Tillman was pursuing a job with the FBI.
“First-class,” Wannstedt said. “What a guy. Charles Tillman is as good as they come and I had a great time working with him.”
Coincidentally, Wannstedt was considering a career with the FBI after he graduated from Pitt. He was a low-level assistant at his alma mater and wasn’t sure coaching was for him. One day after playing racquetball with Jimmy Johnson in 1979, they went to a restaurant in Pittsburgh, and Johnson put Wannstedt on a course for a lifetime in football.
“I wasn’t sure about this coaching thing or what I was going to do and the FBI, I actually met with a couple people and interviewed and I was probably going to take the test and take the next step if I didn’t get into coaching,” Wannstedt said. “We were having a beer and Jimmy talked about coming with him to Oklahoma State and why he thought I should do it. … He really was the one that convinced me.
“I could have stayed at Pitt with Jackie Sherrill and we had (Dan) Marino and Hugh Green. We had a great football team. And Jimmy said if you are going to do this thing, you gotta find out if you can do it. The only way to do it is to roll up your sleeves and jump in with both feet.”
Tillman is doing just that — with the FBI.