Pittman Saves Best Game For Biggest Game
The Tampa Tribune, published 27 January 2003

He heard the boos. He tried not to listen, but he heard them. Michael Pittman said they didn't matter, but deep down, they did. Each week, Pittman knew he needed a big game, or the boos would come from the Raymond James Stadium crowd. On Sunday, he heard the boos again, but this time from opposing fans, angry at what he was doing on the field.

Pittman rushed for a game- high 124 yards on 29 carries, his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer. The Bucs' game plan against Oakland called for a lot of help from the running game, a phase of Tampa Bay's offense that has been inconsistent at best this season.

``I just went out there and I did a great job,'' Pittman said. ``I heard the boos in Tampa, but I just kept working. I just kept trying to get better as games went on.''

Pittman's second carry of the game, a 23-yard dash which set up a 31-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, was his longest run of the season. His previous high was a 22-yard rush in the divisional playoff game against San Francisco. He topped himself in the fourth quarter when he broke off a 24-yard run, which put him over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season.

The Bucs' ground game attacked the right side, with Pittman finding running room behind right guard Cosey Coleman and right tackle Kenyatta Walker. Fullback Mick Alstott also sprang Pittman with some key blocks.

``We've been maligned through the middle part of the year, but we started believing in each other about halfway through the season and started making some plays and started trusting each other that we could get the job done,'' center Jeff Christy said. ``This was the game we've been looking for all year and it couldn't have come at a better time. They call us the worst offensive line, but I guess we're the worst offensive line with Super Bowl rings.''

Pittman, an off-season free- agent acquisition from Arizona, had heard the criticism, too. He wasn't fast enough. He wasn't Warrick Dunn, the back he replaced. He wasn't Alstott, a fan favorite. On Sunday, he was the best running back in the biggest game of the year. By the end of the first half, Pittman had 75 rushing yards, 15 yards shy of his season-high 90 against Chicago in the regular-season finale. The 75 yards were the fourth-most first-half rushing yards in Super Bowl history.

Not bad for a guy who got booed routinely throughout the season. And he did it at home. Pittman grew up in San Diego. He attended San Diego's Mira Mesa High. ``It's the greatest feeling in the world,'' Pittman said. ``Look at that trophy over there. ... We're the world champion. I'm at a loss for words right now, but it's big coming in my hometown, especially since I had a big game.''