New Florida Tusker Michael Pittman is just one of the guys in the UFL
Florida Tuskers running back Michael Pittman during practice. (JOE BURBANK, ORLANDO SENTINEL / September 21, 2009)
Fast-forward to now: 2009, Orlando, Citrus Bowl, UFL training camp. New Florida Tuskers running back Michael Pittman, the man with the muscles and the Super Bowl ring, walks anonymously off the field with the rest of his teammates on his first day of practice. The lone reporter in the locker room quietly asks, "Hey, Michael, you got a minute?"
Michael Pittman arrived to little fanfare Monday, his first day as a member of the new United Football League. The place where never-beens, has-beens, supposed-to-bes, wannabes, gonna-bes, outghta-bes have flocked to prove they still have it.
"It," they say all the time, is what this is all about.
The NFL. The National Football League for some, but Not For Long, for others.
"I know I should be in the NFL right now and I'm not, of course," said Pittman, whose last NFL stint ended last year with a neck injury in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins. Pittman had started three games for Denver, rushing for 320 yards in eight games.
"This is another great opportunity for me, so I'm going to make the most of it and have fun."
Pittman waited out his NFL opportunities this year, but the call never came. So he decided the waiting had to stop.
"I just really got tired of sitting around and waiting ... waiting for an NFL team to call.," Pittman said "I've been training, working out, but other than that I just got tired of sitting on the couch, really."
It's a bit removed from the practice fields of the NFL, but Pittman had a lot of friends around to ease his transition to the "minor leagues."
Several former teammates who are once again current teammates were there to greet him, including Anthony Davis and Dexter Jackson ... Oh yeah, remember him? He only was the Super Bowl MVP in 2003. Paris Warren and Patrick Chukwurah also are there.
On the other side of the parking lot was Pittman's good friend Simeon Rice, who plays for the New York Sentinels, the Tuskers' training camp partners.
"Yeah, I talked to him," Rice said of a conversation he and Pittman had earlier this summer about joining the UFL. "Pitt's a great player, man. I told him he's not done playing yet and he brings a higher level of talent in here.
"Just like I said, we play at a high level. Pitt's a higher level of talent and he should be in the NFL. Just like a lot of these guys around here should be in the NFL."
Pittman values what Rice has to say. Never one to mince words, Rice urged Pittman to not sit back and wait ... to get in the game.
"I called him up and I asked him, 'Hey man, you thinking about playing?' and he said, 'Yeah, I'm gonna play.'" Pittman said. "Me and Simeon have been friends since way back in my rookie year in Arizona, back in '98. Simeon is the type of guy that I trust ... a lot. His opinion matters."
So Pittman made the call and told Tuskers Coach Jim Haslett he was back to being interested in leaving his couch in Tampa and coming over. "Unlike some of these guys who are sitting out waiting, like Chris Perry and Maurice Hicks and Aaron Stecker," Haslett said, "guys who are waiting thinking they're going to get a job ... well, when it comes down to it, [NFL teams] are going to take somebody who's been practicing and playing."
The Tuskers cut former UCF standout running back Alex Haynes on Monday, the same day Pittman was just trying to fit in as a Tusker. Pittman worked on getting his bearings and blending in amid the other aqua-blue helmets.
"I thought he looked great today. He always looks in great shape," Haslett said. "I think his conditioning is pretty good and we'll just keep working him.
"Obviously he has a great understanding of the offense and he's committed to going back to the National Football League and I think this is a good avenue for him."
The offense was another factor in Pittman's decision to join the Tuskers, which added to his comfort level. He ought to know it.
"This is Jon Gruden's offense, of course, and Jay knows it just like Jon, so I'm very comfortable here," Pittman said of Tuskers offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "I came out and watched a practice last week and saw lots of familiar faces ... and with all the feedback I got from them, it was really a no-brainer for me to come out here and decide to play."
Familiar faces like offensive guard Anthony Davis.
"It was kind of weird, really ... I had flashbacks of us practicing back in Tampa," Davis said. "Times like this ... tough times, training camp ... we just try to keep each other going.
"I just love it. He's a hard runner, a hard worker, so it's wonderful to have him out here. His leadership is needed."
Despite the strange venue for the 11-year NFL veteran who has rushed for more than 5,000 yards, the man with the big arms still has a smile on his face and his demeanor seems as relaxed as ever.
"It's kind of a weird situation for me. I've never been cut, never released ... I just wasn't re-signed this time," Pittman said. "But I just wanna come out here and have a great time and hopefully it pays off for me and I get back on an NFL roster by the end of the year."
Just like everybody else.
As Davis put it: "If everybody out here was a superstar, we wouldn't be here. We're taking baby steps to get back where we need to be."