Dick Harmon: Father witnesses rise of his son as Dennis Pitta has breakout year

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2 2013 10:55 p.m. MST

Dennis Pitta Sr. once thought his namesake, son Dennis Pitta, wasn’t big enough to have a serious career beyond high school football.

He’d seen his son play soccer, play little league football and basketball and could see that he inherited some athleticism. But in high school, as a receiver and punt returner, before his son’s senior year at Moorpark High, the father just didn’t envision his son growing big enough to make an impact in college — let alone the NFL.

But today, Dennis Pitta will sit before his TV with his wife Linda in their Highland home and proudly witness their son play a critical role as a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, who face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

“It’s exciting and scary at the same time,” said the father. “You want him to play well, you want him to succeed and not fail, and you do not want him to get injured. This is a thrill. It really is.”

The son has become a major weapon for Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco. He has overtaken teammate Ed Dickson, a higher 2010 Ravens draft pick, as a weapon in Baltimore’s passing game. Pitta now has a chance to set a franchise record for TDs by a tight end. His consistency, his steady dependability, his clutch hands — all traits witnessed by the father when the son was at BYU — are all blooming over again on the biggest stage the game has to offer.

The father cringed during last Sunday’s AFC championship game against the New England Patriots when his son went over the middle for a Flacco pass and was sandwiched and “obliterated” by Patriot inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. Crumpling to the turf, he wondered if his son would survive the bone-jarring hit. He did. And he held onto the ball.

When the son got back to the huddle, Flacco apologized for placing Pitta in a vulnerable position. The next play, however, Pitta got away from Patriots safety Steve Gregory for a 5-yard touchdown reception that gave Baltimore a lead they’d never relinquish.

Such plays illustrate the moxie, the athleticism, the concentration, and the gamesmanship the father has witnessed in the son. The skinny, undersized son has grown into a monster tight end target in the NFL, and today he could play a key role in the game's outcome.

The son has caught 61 passes for 669 yards, and seven touchdowns for the Ravens this season. In the playoffs, he’s hauled in 10 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including five for 55 yards in the AFC championship game.

This is no fluke, this Pitta and his hands and the Super Bowl.

Pitta Jr. has steadily, over a long period of time, honed his skills and progressed into a big-time football player.

This past week, the father took calls from reporters in Modesto and Fresno, doing a story on the local kid. Dennis Senior kind of chuckles over it because while it is true the TV screen will flash his son’s name and that he’s from Fresno, the family actually moved from Fresno when Dennis was 2.

But this is Super Bowl hype. And the Pittas are hip deep in it all.

Says the father, “I remember back when he was a sophomore in high school and he played sophomore ball. When he was a junior, he played on the junior varsity. Both years, he didn’t get the call to play on the varsity but he did play varsity when he was a senior. Until he was a senior, I thought he was too small, that he’d never be big enough to play college football, but that final year of high school I could see it; I could believe he might have a chance at college football.”

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