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A Breakout Performance

Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman turns in his best game of the season, 29 carries for 124 yards, in the biggest game of the season.

January 27, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Michael Pittman said he has a good idea how history will judge his accomplishments.

"Nobody's going to talk about what I did at all, not with the way the defense played or the fact I didn't score a touchdown," Pittman, the Buccaneer running back, said Sunday after Tampa Bay defeated Oakland, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII. "It's OK. I'm glad. I'll remember. This was a dream for me."

Pittman chose football's biggest night to play his best game of the season, a 29-carry, 124-yard effort that was at the heart of two long scoring drives that greatly assisted Tampa Bay's Super Bowl victory in Pittman's hometown.

"We controlled the line of scrimmage, and Mike was a huge part of that," said Buccaneer receiver Keenan McCardell, whose touchdown receptions near the end of the second quarter and midway through the third ended drives in which Pittman's runs helped chew up 11 minutes. "A hundred-plus yards in the Super Bowl? Mike was huge."

The effort was inspiring considering Pittman, who shares carries with buffalo-like fullback Mike Alstott, hadn't rushed for more than 90 yards or carried the ball more than 21 times in a game during the regular season. Other than that performance against woeful Chicago, his next best rushing total was 62 yards.

"Our game plan was to keep with the running game, to keep the Raiders' great offense off the field," Pittman said.

"We went out there and did it. Our offensive line did a great job and I just kept pounding it in there and trying to make them miss."

The result was a string of important plays.

He had a 23-yard carry in the first quarter that set up a field goal. "That got me going," he said. He had a 19-yard second-quarter run in which he juked left, causing defenders Rod Woodson and Tory James to stop in their tracks and watch him charge to the two-yard line. Alstott scored a touchdown two plays later.

"More than anything, I was just trying to get out of their way," Pittman said.

Pittman carried five times for 20 yards on a late first-half drive that ended with a McCardell catch and a 20-3 advantage.

A 24-yard carry in the fourth quarter put him over the elusive 100-yard barrier.

"The more carries you get, the more relaxed you become," Pittman said.

Pittman last rushed for 100 yards in 1999, when he was an Arizona Cardinal. "I'm a long way from Arizona now," he said.

He spent four seasons with the Cardinals, but as his carries were reduced after Thomas Jones was drafted, he opted to leave as a free agent. He had a meeting with Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden in March and signed quickly afterward.

"The offensive side wasn't where we wanted it to be for a while, the defense won us a lot of games early," Pittman said. "It took time to learn this offense, and we've continued to get better."

The next thing Pittman knew, his team was playing in the Super Bowl in his hometown. His mother, father and 10 other family members came to the game.

If no one else remembers what he contributed, they will. "This is the best feeling in the world," Pittman said.

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