Perfect Timing Maligned tailback Michael Pittman got his big chance and ran with it

February 03, 2003

Michael Pittman sat in the Buccaneers' locker room before Super
Bowl XXXVII, headphones on, CD player turned up loud. Over and
over he played his personal anthem for the day, Eminem's Lose
Yourself, the lyrics boring into his head: You only get one
shot/Do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once
in a lifetime, yo.

"A perfect song for a football game," Pittman said on Sunday,
after carrying 29 times for 124 yards, his best performance of
the season. "A perfect song for me at this point in my career."

Pittman, 27, needed this game--badly. When Tampa Bay signed him
to a five-year, $8.75 million contract last spring, the Bucs were
expecting more out of the fifth-year tailback from the Arizona
Cardinals than the 43 yards per game he averaged coming into the
Super Bowl. Early in the season, coach Jon Gruden questioned his
toughness; later, St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton
wrote that he had "the balance of Gerald Ford and the vision of
Mr. Magoo."

"I got a high ankle sprain the first day of training camp, and my
ankle's never been right all year," the six-foot, 218-pound San
Diego native said after his impressive homecoming. "Still isn't.
It got twisted again on my first carry today. I just don't think
I've been able to show what I could really do."

By his second carry Pittman had put the pain in his ankle out of
his mind. When he got a great outside block from fullback Mike
Alstott and a sealing block inside from guard Kerry Jenkins,
Pittman blew through the hole much like Walter Payton (his second
cousin) would have and raced 23 yards to the Oakland 14 to set up
Martin Gramatica's 31-yard field goal. The Bucs hadn't seen that
burst all year. "The way my season had been going," said Pittman,
"I was just hoping I wouldn't trip."

Midway through the second quarter Tampa Bay, clinging to a 6--3
lead, had second-and-four at the Oakland 21. Again Pittman shot
through the middle, this time for 19 yards. Alstott scored two
plays later, and the rout was on. "When we watched San Diego
against the Raiders this season, we saw that you could run on
them up the middle," said right tackle Kenyatta Walker. "I told
Michael, 'Don't take it outside. Just run behind us.'"

"This league's not always about the Warren Sapps," added left
tackle Roman Oben. "Sometimes it's about a journeyman line and a
back with his second team who's struggled a lot."

Almost 90 minutes after the game, Pittman, who has a tattoo on
his right arm that reads THE REAL BLACK SUPERMAN, had yet to take
off his uniform. He didn't want the day to end. Finally he rose,
the last Buc to leave the interview tent, saying, "I'm going to
remember every play of this game for a long, long time."

He should. It's not often a man gets his one shot, the opportunity
of a lifetime, and nails it. --Peter King

Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at
cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS CAREER DAY Pittman had his most productive game as a Buc, runningfor 124 yards as Tampa Bay controlled the ball for 37:14.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)