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MICHAEL PITTMAN sat in the Buccaneers' locker room before Super Bowl XXXVII, headphones on, CD player turned up loud. Over and over he played his personal anthem for the day, Eminem's Lose Yourself, the lyrics boring into his head: You only get one shot/Do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.
"A perfect song for a football game," Pittman said on Sunday, after carrying 29 times for 124 yards, his best performance of the season. "A perfect song for me at this point in my career."
Pittman, 27, needed this game—badly. When Tampa Bay signed him to a five-year, $8.75 million contract last spring, the Bucs were expecting more out of the fifth-year tailback from the Arizona Cardinals than the 43 yards per game he averaged coming into the Super Bowl. Early in the season, coach Jon Gruden questioned his toughness; later, St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton wrote that he had "the balance of Gerald Ford and the vision of Mr. Magoo."
"I got a high ankle sprain the first day of training camp, and my ankle's never been right all year," the six-foot, 218-pound San Diego native said after his impressive homecoming. "Still isn't. It got twisted again on my first carry today. I just don't think I've been able to show what I could really do."
By his second carry Pittman had put the pain in his ankle out of his mind. When he got a great outside block from fullback Mike Alston and a sealing block inside from guard Kerry Jenkins, Pittman blew through the hole much like Walter Payton (his second cousin) would have and raced 23 yards to the Oakland 14 to set up Martin Gramatica's 31-yard field goal. The Bucs hadn't seen that burst all year. "The way my season had been going," said Pittman, "I was just hoping I wouldn't trip."
Midway through the second quarter Tampa Bay, clinging to a 6-3 lead, had second-and-four at the Oakland 21. Again Pittman shot through the middle, this time for 19 yards. Alston scored two plays later, and the rout was on. "When we watched San Diego against the Raiders this season, we saw that you could run on them up the middle," said right tackle Kenyatta Walker. "I told Michael, 'Don't take it outside. Just run behind us.' "
"This league's not always about the Warren Sapps," added left tackle Roman Oben. "Sometimes it's about a journeyman line and a back with his second team who's struggled a lot."
Almost 90 minutes after the game, Pittman, who has a tattoo on his right arm that reads THE REAL BLACK SUPERMAN, had yet to take off his uniform. He didn't want the day to end. Finally he rose, the last Buc to leave the interview tent, saying, "I'm going to remember every play of this game for a long, long time."
He should. It's not often a man gets his one shot, the opportunity of a lifetime, and nails it.
Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at cnnsi.com/football.