OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta hasn’t lost his dry sense of humor less than two weeks after suffering his third devastating right hip injury to end his seven-year run with the Ravens.
Using crutches to stand before the media after Baltimore concluded its three-day minicamp, the 31-year-old immediately sparked laughter in what could have been a sobering “farewell” press conference.
“They asked me to do podium and I said, ‘I don’t even work here. Why do I have to come up?'” said Pitta, referencing the Ravens releasing him on an injury waiver last week. “But here I am.”
It was a surreal scene after he had quipped to media only three weeks ago how nice it was to no longer be fielding so many questions about his hip.
Pitta made no retirement announcement on Thursday, but he’s “not delusional” after dislocating and fracturing his hip for the third time in the last four years. The 2010 fourth-round pick spoke about his career in the past tense, but he wants to focus on making a full recovery before facing the finality of his playing days being all but officially over.
For Pitta, being on his feet and back at the Ravens’ training facility was gratifying enough after his horrific injury on June 2 and the surgery that followed. Being driven around by Steve Bisciotti in the owner’s golf cart during Wednesday’s practice, he was greeted by head coach John Harbaugh and many teammates happy to see him.
Unfortunately, this is familiar territory for the man who caught three touchdowns in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII.
“More of a nightmare, I would say, other than déjà vu,” said Pitta, who had told his wife, Mataya, that he was feeling better than ever just days before re-injuring his hip. “It is what it is. It’s something I’ve gone through before. It’s weird being out here and not being part of things. Just over a week ago, I was out here practicing and feeling really good, so things change in an instant. But I’m positive and staying in a good mind frame.”
We’ll always wonder where Pitta could have ranked on the franchise’s all-time receiving list as he appeared to be emerging as one of the top tight ends in the league when he sustained his first hip injury on July 27, 2013. He missed nearly three full seasons due to the first two injuries and played in a total of just 19 games after signing a five-year, $32 million contract in 2014 that included $16 million guaranteed.
His story is a reminder of how fragile an NFL career can be.
“It’s heartbreaking. I talked to him. He understands it. I understand it,” said veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, who years ago nicknamed Pitta “American Express” for his reliability in being everywhere you want him to be. “It’s part of the game. Some of these guys look and say, ‘Dang, Sizz, 15 years?’ You know some people don’t have that long. That’s definitely something to be fortunate about. But I talked to him, and he’s in good spirits about it. It’s just one of those things. We play a very brutal sport.”
Pitta said his improbable return to the field in 2016 means even more to him now as he was the only Ravens tight end to appear in all 16 games and led all NFL tight ends with a career-high 86 receptions. He isn’t second-guessing his decision to come back last year despite previously contemplating retirement because of the slow rehab process that came with the 2014 injury.
Expressing gratitude for the support from both his family and the organization over these last few challenging years, Pitta sounded like a man at peace with his fate.
Even if he wasn’t quite ready to to use the “retirement” word.
“I think it’ll be a little bit more cut and dried this time,” Pitta said. “I certainly don’t regret coming back and playing last season. I felt great all year. I think I would have regretted it more being at home and feeling as good as I did and not playing. It was a tremendous year for me personally, just being able to overcome what I did and prove a lot to myself, and I don’t regret it one bit.
“I’m happy I played and fortunate that I was able to get another year in.”