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Pitta says injury 'put things in perspective'

Published December 14, 2013 5:36 pm

In July, Ravens TE faced the end of his NFL career, but he's back on field after grueling hip rehabilitation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Owings Mills, Md. • Dennis Pitta was uncharacteristically miserable, for good reason.

It was July, and the Baltimore Ravens tight end had just undergone surgery to repair the right hip he dislocated and fractured after falling awkwardly on the second day of training camp. As he lay in a hospital bed, Pitta knew his football career could be over.

Pitta would have to wait two agonizing weeks for an MRI that would determine the extent of the injury. If there was vascular or cartilage damage, he would be done in the NFL after only three seasons.

"He's usually a happy guy, but when I walked into the room I could feel his pain. He was sad and upset," said Pitta's wife, Mataya. "I'd never really seen him like that."

Pitta's eyes lit up when he saw his wife and their infant son, Decker, who was born in May. But his delight was short-lived. The couple discussed their options, which included the possibility of Pitta beginning life after football by going back to finish his college education at BYU, where he was a star player.

"When you don't know if you're going to play football again, you start thinking about a lot of things and put things in perspective [and] try to figure out what [to] do with the rest of your life," Pitta said. "Those are tough questions to ask when you just want to play."

Flash forward to last Sunday, when Pitta caught six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown to help Baltimore beat Minnesota 29-26.

"It was special for me to be able to not only take the field, but to be able to contribute like that," he said. "It's been a lot of hard work going into that, a lot of patience."

When he arrived at training camp, Pitta was coming off a sensational season in which he caught 61 passes and scored seven touchdowns. He was even better in the playoffs, adding 14 catches and three scores to fuel Baltimore's run to a Super Bowl title.

Pitta was supposed to be even more of a target this season. The Ravens traded receiver Anquan Boldin because they knew Pitta would be there to take throws from Joe Flacco in the middle of the field and on third-and-long.

"I prepared myself well going into the season and was really poised to play my best," Pitta said.

Then came that fateful July 27 collision in the end zone with teammate James Ihedigbo.

"I woke up the next day and I had a nice big incision down my leg. They had to remove a bone fragment. There was another fracture in the socket," Pitta said.

The initial prognosis wasn't rosy.

"I told him, 'If it's over, you had a great run,' " Mataya said.

The MRI yielded a positive outlook, although Pitta remained on crutches and needed Mataya to put on his socks and help him around their three-story town house.

"My wife had a particular challenge, taking care of a newborn baby and me at the same time," Pitta recalled. "Bless her heart for what she had to deal with."

Not long after that, Pitta began the rehabilitation process.

"I have never seen anybody work as hard as he did," Mataya said. "Every day he did more than what the doctors and trainers asked. He changed his … lifestyle, including his diet, and he really loves to eat."

Pitta toiled seven days a week to get back. All that work paid off Sunday, when he joined his teammates for his first game of the year.

"Seeing him Saturday night when I dropped him at the hotel, he was as happy as a little kid," Mataya said.

Although the game was played in the snow on an icy field, Pitta ran his routes with confidence. It was almost as if he never left.

Maybe the 7-6 Ravens — who play Monday night at 7-6 Detroit — wouldn't be struggling to reach the playoffs if Pitta had been around from the beginning.

"He catches the football, he's in the right place, he runs routes, he knows how to get open," Flacco said.

Even the guys on the other side of the ball realize Pitta's value.

"Everybody knows I'm his biggest fan," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I'm happy to see him back out there doing what he does best, and that is helping us win games."




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