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Charles Tillman does his bit for military family

Greg Doltz wasn't expecting an unforgettable Super Bowl Sunday. At least nothing out of the ordinary.

The plan, as it had been for the last seven years, was to take in the Seahawks-Broncos game at a casual gathering with his wife's co-workers.

Food. Football. Fun.

That's what Doltz, a New Jersey paramedic, was anticipating when he finally went to bed at 3:30 a.m. the night before he said, after completing a late shift working the UFC event at the Prudential Center in Newark.

So how was it then at kickoff Doltz was sitting in Section 112, Row 13, Seat 1 of MetLife Stadium with his wife, Tiffany, readying to witness the Seahawks' 43-8 thrashing of the Broncos?

Give the assists to Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, Doltz's friend Neeraj Singh and, yes, the magic of Twitter.

Doltz was asleep Sunday morning when Tillman fired off these Tweets.

Tillman's first message received 2,542 Retweets and 11 minutes after it went out, Singh chimed in with a reply.

It was enough to catch Tillman's attention.

@peanuttillman the Doltz family lost their son/brother who was killed when his convoy was attacked.

— Neeraj Singh (@NSinghShady) February 2, 2014

On Saturday night, the Bears standout had received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, breaking down in tears at the NFL Honors Show at Radio City Music Hall after a video presentation that detailed the philanthropic work he and his wife, Jackie, help spearhead for the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation as well as his Charles’ Locker program that provides support for pediatric hospital patients and their families and the Tiana Fund, which provides grant money to families in need.

On Sunday, the veteran cornerback added a simple act of generosity that had Singh calling to wake up a groggy and disbelieving Doltz around 11 a.m. with news that Doltz might be headed for the Super Bowl.

Singh had given the Tillmans additional detail on Doltz, whose brother, Ryan, was in the Army when he was killed in Iraq nearly a decade ago. On June 5, 2004, the vehicle Ryan was in was hit by an improvised explosive device. He was 26.

The Doltz family runs a foundation in Ryan’s memory, Remembering Ryan, that has established scholarship funds at Dover High School in New Jersey as well as the Virginia Military Institute. Ryan attended both schools.

The Doltz family’s story touched the Tillmans, with Singh becoming the middle man to facilitate the ticket acquisition.

“As he’s telling me all this,” Doltz said, “I’m half-asleep and still thinking that I’m dreaming the whole thing. I was honestly looking for the camera hiding in my house to catch the whole joke.”

Sunday’s whirlwind for the 34-year-old Doltz included a phone call with Jackie Tillman in which Greg shared the story of his brother.

Ryan had been injured in training, fracturing both heels in January 2004 and facing a recovery that doctors estimated would include six weeks in a wheelchair and six months in rehabilitation.

Instead, Ryan, who had played football in high school and rugby at VMI, plowed through his recovery with toughness, determination and resolve, Greg said, heading to Baghdad to rejoin his unit in early April 2004 for “Operation: Iraqi Freedom.”

For a while after Ryan’s death, Greg recognized the cruel consequences of Ryan’s accelerated recovery.

“Yeah, you do think about that part,” Greg said. “But my brother was the type that if you had told him that’s how it was all going to happen, it still wouldn’t have changed his mind. That’s the way he was. He thought that way. He wanted to serve. He volunteered to go over. He was proud to be there.”

So before kickoff Sunday, when Greg and Tiffany were settled in their seats, soaking in the energy and the spectacle, Greg took a quiet and reflective moment to remember his brother.

“My brother always wanted to be a warrant officer,” Greg said. “So when they were playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and the helicopters were flying over, I got choked up. It was amazing to see that. It kind of hit home.” The game itself was a laugher, with the Seahawks taking a lead 12 seconds in and steamrolling to victory. It was only the second NFL game Doltz had attended.

Yes, there was the task of making an anxious 40-minute Sunday afternoon drive from his home in Jefferson Township to the stadium. And there still were doubts for Doltz when he had to navigate Super Bowl security and plenty of confusion to find the will-call window.

“Even up to the minute before I had the tickets in my hand, I thought the whole thing was a hoax,” Doltz said. “Even on the drive down, I told my wife, ‘If this turns out not to be real, let’s just go have fun at our friends’ house. It’ll still be worth the trip. Who cares?’ ”

In the end, despite never speaking with or meeting Tillman, Doltz had nothing but gratitude.

“We would have loved to have met Charles to say thank you,” Doltz sad. “His wife asked that we take a lot of pictures and send them to them. … Our whole family thanks him from the bottom of our hearts.”

Attempts to reach Tillman were unsuccessful.

With the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death coming this spring, Doltz also had a chuckle thinking about how his brother would have processed the Super Bowl craziness.

“It was so spur-of-the-moment,” Doltz said. “And that was Ryan’s thing. He would drop everything he was doing to hang out with his friends. He would be in New Jersey, and his friend in Virginia would call to see what he was doing. And the next thing you knew, he would be getting in his car to drive to Virginia.

“That was the type of guy my brother was. I’m more the plan-it-out kind of guy and make sure we have everything we need before doing things. So, yeah, now I can better appreciate the spur-of-the-moment reaction.”

dwiederer@tribune.com

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