Arash Markazi
Monday January 28th, 2008

As Ephraim Salaam rubs his hands together and gears up to tell the story again -- a story that landed he and Houston Texans teammate Chester Pitts in Los Angeles for the taping of a Super Bowl commercial -- Pitts stops him before he can begin.

"We need to tell them that we planned this," says Pitts, a left guard who has started every game in Houston Texans history. "It needs to be known that we planned it that you would tell the story so you could come to Hollywood."

Salaam, the starting left tackle for the Texans, simply smiles and shakes his head. "I changed the story every now and again to spice it up, but the core part is still the truth," says Salaam, who has acting aspirations after his NFL career is over. "We didn't plan this. It was all me. It was my idea to take this story national."

While Pitts and Salaam playfully joke with each other about the story's variations and how they ended up being the subject of a commercial that will debut on Super Bowl Sunday, they both agree that the two of them just being here is a story worthy of Hollywood. Or at least worthy of a 60-second ad after their story was chosen ahead of 47 other players who submitted similar narratives for fan voting on during the playoffs.

About 10 years ago Salaam, who was a three-year starter at San Diego State, was shopping at a supermarket near campus when he noticed Pitts, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound bespectacled grocery bagger, who had never played football before. Salaam told Pitts, an oboe player who went to a math and science high school without a football team, that he should walk on to the squad at San Diego State. Pitts didn't think much of the idea until he carried Salaam's groceries back to his car -- a brand new, 1998 black Corvette.

"That opened his eyes," said Salaam, who would be drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round that year. "He asked, 'How can I get a car like that?' I said, 'Not by playing the oboe.'"

Pitts, already a freshman at San Diego State, would later walk-on to the football team, become a three-year starter on the offensive line, get drafted by Houston Texans in the second round in 2002 and go on to start every game in the franchise's history.

"He's living a dream now," says Salaam, who signed with the Texans in 2006, his fourth team since entering the league. "He didn't even have the dream before he met me."

This is where Pitts comes in and, as he puts it, "clean that bull." While nothing is factually wrong with Salaam's telling of the story, Pitts admits that he knew Salaam for months on campus before helping him with his groceries that day, and that he had already considered trying out for the football team after the two had discussed it for some time.

"He makes it seem like if it wasn't for Ephraim Salaam, I wouldn't be breathing," says Pitts. "I wouldn't be alive. I wouldn't be anything without Ephraim Salaam."

"Yes, it's such a remarkable story," says Salaam, sitting next to Pitts in a makeshift Texans locker room set up in the Rose Bowl. "A guy at a dead-end job, and a guy like myself saved him and gave him a dream."

"Dead-end job, no aspirations, $6.25 was just going to get it done forever," deadpans Pitts. "You know what; it was a good thing that in, what was it? The seventh round someone decided to call you."

"Wow!" says Salaam. "I see how it is."

The good natured ribbing between the left side of the Texans' offensive line set the tone for the 10 hours of shooting the two were put through a couple weeks ago as they shot footage of an afro-wearing Pitts taking Salaam's groceries to his car, walking onto the football team before we fast forward ten years to when the two are teammates for the first time in the NFL.

Although the players were told to act natural in front of the camera, it was difficult to make the home locker room at the Rose Bowl feel like the one at Reliant Stadium, with extras walking around as Matt Schaub and Mario Williams. "The Mario Williams is about 40 and weighs about 390 pounds," says Salaam when he sees him. "That's funny."

Salaam was later sprayed with water to serve as sweat after a game while Pitts had dirt meticulously placed on his pants. "I don't sweat this much during a game," says Salaam. "It's seriously cold in here. We weren't swimming we were playing football."

"This is the first time I've ever had dirt choreographed on me," says Pitts. "And my pants don't ever get this dirty."

While a few liberties may have been taken in the shooting of the commercial, much like Salaam's telling of the story, the message remained the same, even if they would have liked to have scripted a better ending to their season.

"From bagging my groceries to playing with me in the NFL," Salaam said of Pitts. "And now we're in the Super Bowl...well, sort of."

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