NEW ORLEANS — The father carried a chip on his shoulder on the football field. The son carries a ton of cool.
Dennis Pitta II, the tight end of the Baltimore Ravens, steps with measured calm into Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. But did you know Dennis Pitta, his father, merely was Davis High's first great football player?
And that Dad marvels over the bigger, faster and better version of himself?
"I had to play angry," the father said by phone Wednesday. "Dennis doesn't show his competitive fire on the outside. But he's got it."
The New England Patriots learned all about Pitta Pride during the AFC championship game. Pitta was decleated by New England linebacker Jerod Mayo, who delivered a vicious blow the tight end did not expect.
Not only did Pitta not leave the field, he caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco on the next play. The Ravens took the lead to stay and parlayed the momentum into a stroll to New Orleans.
"He has been an inspiration to me my whole life," the younger Pitta said of his father Tuesday. "It's about effort, playing the game, never quitting, about heart, you know, the little things, that he's told me along my career that have helped me out."
A little background: The older Pitta moved to Modesto from Santa Rosa in the seventh grade; his dad worked for Bank of America and was transferred. A member of Davis' Class of 1965, Pitta was an aggressive two-way star on Davis' first football team (his brother Dave played for Davis a few years later). Dan Gonsalves, the Spartans' first coach, never forgot him.
"Dennis was nails," Gonsalves said. "His last two years were outstanding. He really blossomed when we moved him to running back as a senior. When he hit, it was like rockets meeting."
Pitta took that moxie to Modesto Junior College, where he was stopped only by a season-ending broken collarbone as a sophomore. Undaunted, he finished his collegiate career with two solid years as a middle linebacker at Cal.
After graduation, Pitta and wife Linda raised three children (Dennis II and older sisters Kelly and Lindsey).
Unfortunately for Modesto, those football genes didn't stay in town. Job requirements forced a family move to Fresno where the future Raven was born and another relocation to Moorpark in Southern California when he was 2.
The son became a standout wide receiver at Moorpark High. He eventually walked on at Brigham Young University, where he mirrored his father's late-bloomer growth.
The elder Pitta topped off at 6-foot-1½ and about 215 pounds, but much of that came from a 40-pound jump as an MJC freshman. Sure enough, the son's career didn't accelerate until he returned from his two-year Mormon mission.
"I kind of had to work my way up from the bottom (at BYU)," he said.
The kid who started high school at 5-7 and 135 pounds sprouted as a collegian to 6-4½ and 245 pounds with 4.6-second speed in the 40. By the time he finished at BYU, he was one of the nation's top tight ends.
"It was a surprise to the family about how big he got," the father said. "I knew my great-grandfather was 6-4, but that was it."
Both the father and the son launched their collegiate careers with games against Notre Dame. Later, the NFL accepted only one. The elder was cut after a brief stay with the Cincinnati Bengals, but the son was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round in 2010.
Here came a growth spurt of a different kind. As a rookie, Pitta caught one pass for one yard, followed by 40 catches for 405 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. This year, his hybrid receiver-tight-end roots kicked in with 61 receptions for 669 yards and seven TDs.
Pitta's competitive fight manifests itself via production over emotion. He doesn't rattle. He was asked the craziest question at Tuesday's Media Day "On a scale of 1-to-10, how ticklish are you?" but hardly blinked.
For the record, his tickle-meter measures about 5 to 6.
"I worried about him when he was younger. I never saw the competitive fire," the father said. "I found out later that he kept it hidden. We were at two ends."
Chances are good Dennis Pitta's son will show some anxiety when his first child, a son, arrives in May. Until then, he'll settle for a grin in the end zone on Super Bowl Sunday.