Air Force football great Carson Bird died Saturday after a struggle with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He was 31.
His wife, Brittany, was by Bird's side in Marshall, Mich. during his final days, when he remained clear-headed and cheerful.
"He doesn't want us to cry for him but that's so hard," Brittany said Sunday night. "He doesn't want us to remember him when his vessel (his body) was breaking down. He wants us to remember him in all his glory."
There was, no doubt, plenty of glory.
Bird was the key defensive player on coach Troy Calhoun's first Air Force team, the 2007 Falcons who finished 9-4. The Falcons had lost 25 of 38 games heading into the 2007 season. Bird was a brash cornerback always assigned the opposing team's best receiver, but he also hit with the bone-jarring force of a linebacker.
"He's always been a very determined, strong, spiritual, remarkable young man," Calhoun said in March. "He's a young man who has always been able to surge and do more physically than what may seem realistic."
As a junior in 2006, Bird sat the bench for a team that finished with eight losses in 12 games. He blossomed under a new coaching staff in 2007, his final season. Working with the freedom to gamble under the direction of defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. Bird emerged as one of college's football top defensive backs. He made a crucial last-minute interception in regulation against Texas Christian, sending the game to overtime. The Falcons won, 20-17.
Bird was named first-team all-Mountain West and honorable mention All-American.
He returned to Colorado Springs to work as an assistant coach at the academy's prep school. In August 2014, he began suffering pain in his hip. Doctors at first believed he suffered from bone death.
In September 2015, he was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma.
"This is a challenge and I'm going to meet it head-on, and if my purpose is to beat it and teach other people how to do that, then I will try," Bird said in late 2015. "If it is to go now with my head held high and be thankful for what I have had in my life, then I will do that."
Bird was honored at halftime of the Sept. 10 Air Force-Georgia State game at Falcon Stadium. He stood on the field, holding hands with Brittany while surrounded by friends and former teammates who wore shirts with No. 2 on the back. No. 2 was Bird's number at Air Force.
Chad Hall, the offensive star of the 2007 team, was one of Bird's best friends. On Tuesday, Hall awoke early in Michigan and went to talk with Bird.
"What do you need?" Hall asked Bird. "Can I get you breakfast? What can I get you?"
"I don't need anything," Bird said. "I just need you to be right with me. That's all I need."
Hall was telling the story by phone on Sunday night. He laughed gently as he thought back to his last hours with Bird.
"I stayed there for four days, just right by his side," Hall said. "He was so determined and so courageous. It's hard to see one of your brothers and best friends going through all that, but there was not one time he made me feel sorry for him."
Brittany said the family is planning a Dec. 9 memorial service at Air Force Academy. Details are pending.