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Bags to Riches

Jan. 28, 2008
Jan. 28, 2008

Table of Contents
Jan. 28, 2008

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
NFL PLAYOFFS
PRO BASKETBALL
HOCKEY
COLLEGE BASKETBALL
PIGEON RACING
Point After
Departments

Bags to Riches

A Super Bowl ad tells an improbable tale

LISTEN TO Ephraim Salaam tell it, and you'd think that left guard Chester Pitts, who has started every game in Houston Texans history, would still be bagging groceries in San Diego if it weren't for him. "He's living a dream now," said Salaam, a Texans tackle. "He didn't even have the dream before he met me."

This is an article from the Jan. 28, 2008 issue

Salaam, sitting in a strategically lit locker room at the Rose Bowl, was being filmed for an NFL commercial that will air on Super Bowl Sunday. His anecdotal story was chosen ahead of 47 other players' who also submitted football-related shorts to fan voting on NFL.com. "You've got to clean that bull up," said Pitts good-naturedly while watching Salaam from a monitor in the back of the locker room. "It's like I didn't have one damn dream before I met Ephraim Salaam."

Like most true stories adapted for filming, a few liberties were taken during the production process, but for the most part the 60-second ad, shot over the course of 10 hours, is accurate. Pitts, an oboe player who went to a math and science high school in L.A., had never played football and was working at a supermarket while attending San Diego State when he met Salaam, who'd just graduated. One spring day in 1998 Pitts helped Salaam carry out his groceries and saw Salaam's new, black Corvette.

"That opened his eyes," said Salaam, who would be drafted by Atlanta. "He asked, 'How can I get a car like that?' I said, 'Not by playing the oboe.'" Inspired, the then 6'4", 305-pound Pitts walked on to State's football team and played four years. In 2002 he was a second-round draft pick of the Texans.

For the ad, in which Pitts (left) also appears, the players were spritzed with water and had their uniform pants rubbed with dirt to look as if they'd just left the field. "I don't sweat this much in a game," Salaam griped—though overall he was in a fine mood. "From bagging my groceries to playing with me in the NFL," he said of Pitts, "and now we're in the Super Bowl ... well, sort of."

The Pop Culture Grid

View this article in the original magazine

How do sports stars fit in?Favorite authorFavorite magazineI'm deathly afraid of ...Hannah Montana is ...Phrase I'm sick of hearing
MAYA MOORE UConn FKhaled HosseiniAny women's basketball magazineNothingEverywhereI'm so hood.
DANIEL GIBSON Cavaliers GDr. SeussSlamHeightsAwesome. I watch her show on the Disney ChannelPractice is at 11 a.m.
SCOTT HARTNELL Flyers FJ.R.R. TolkienGQDrowningA singer and Billy Ray Cyrus's daughterLife is like a box of chocolates
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE Trail Blazers C-FStephen KingSPORTS ILLUSTRATEDSnakesI don't know.You know what I'm saying?
PHOTOIAN WHITE (OBOE AND LOCKER ROOM)HIGH NOTE Salaam (left) inspired Pitts to go from oboist to offensive lineman.PHOTOIAN WHITE (OBOE AND LOCKER ROOM)PHOTOPETER AIKEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (PITTS IN ACTION)PHOTOBOB CHILD/AP (MOORE)PHOTOGREG NELSON (GIBSON)PHOTOBRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (HARTNELL)PHOTOEVAN VUCCI/AP (ALDRIDGE)PHOTOCBS/PHOTOFEST (CAT IN THE HAT)PHOTOPOCKET BOOKS (KING)PHOTORUPAK DE CHOWDHURI/REUTERS (SNAKE)PHOTOPARAMOUNT PICTURES/PHOTOFEST (VERTIGO)PHOTOWALT DISNEY VIDEO (MONTANA)