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Dennis Pitta Explains His Difficult Decision

Tight end Dennis Pitta could have sat back and cashed his guaranteed checks this year. He could have thrown his hands up and said, "That's it. I've had enough."

Pitta suffered one of the most painful and damaging injuries to a professional athlete – twice. He first fractured and dislocated his hip in training camp in 2013, then again on Sept. 21, 2014, that time without contact.

But Pitta fought. He fought not only his body, but he fought his doctors. And he's still not ready to throw in the towel even though he won't be on the field this season.

On Tuesday, after evaluating Pitta's hip following three weeks of practice (which included contact), Pitta's specialists and team doctors advised him that he shouldn't play football this year. Pitta had the option to overrule them, and, by the sounds of it, he nearly did.

But on Wednesday morning, Head Coach John Harbaugh and Pitta announced that he won't be coming back to play this season. He'll be placed on season-ending injured reserve.

"I am extremely disappointed," Pitta said.

"I've kind of pushed back hard against everything they've been saying to really get a good indication of where it's at. It's been difficult for me, obviously, accepting the fact that I won't be out there this season."

As Pitta walked to the press conference microphone, he joked about needing a cane. It was as if he was trying to laugh his way through it. But as he discussed his difficult decision, the emotion on his usual deadpan face was apparent.

When much of your life has been centered on football, with so much sacrifice and hard work wrapped into it, it's difficult to change directions. Imagine having a profession that you love and, all of a sudden, you're told you can't work in that field anymore when you feel like you absolutely can.

If Pitta didn't want to play, he wouldn't have returned to practice to test his hip. After all, the first day he came back, he said his wife was nervous to get a call that he'd re-injured himself. But Pitta took the risk.

"I'm a football player," Pitta said. "I love football. I love competing and I love playing at the* *highest level. That's something I don't think I'm ready to give up."

Pitta also wanted to play for his teammates and the Baltimore Ravens organization.

The Ravens gave him a five-year contract extension even after his first hip injury, before the 2014 season. They took a leap of faith, confident he could return to his old self after showing glimpses of that in four games at the end of 2013.

"I have a sense of duty to my teammates, and to this team, and to this organization," Pitta said. "This organization has given me a lot over the last few years, certainly with the contract extension in the last two years, and I haven't been on the field much for that."

Problem is, Pitta's hip just didn't feel right. Doctors needed to see a certain amount of strength and get a clean status report in order to give him the green light. Being honest about what he was feeling, Pitta couldn't give a pain-free report.

Pitta said he felt good in warm weather, but the on-setting cold temperatures seemed to cause problems.

"Obviously, we wanted to see no issues at all," Pitta said. "There were things both on and off the field that weren't feeling right, and were certainly feeling different from the first time around. I have a little experience with this injury, so I know how it should have felt and needed to feel."

Pitta is still pushing. He said he isn't ready to make a decision on retirement, despite saying when he returned to practice three weeks ago that if he didn't play this season, he may not ever play at all.

That decision will be put off for another day. Pitta said doctors don't yet have an answer for whether more time will allow for more healing, but he's holding out hope.

"Certainly there's no plans to retire at this time," Pitta said. "I'm going to continue to rehab and it's something we'll continue to evaluate. At the end of the year, we'll see where it's at."

For now, Pitta will still remain around the Under Armour Performance Center, still by the side of his close friend, quarterback Joe Flacco. Pitta will continue to coach up the team's young tight ends of Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle.

It's difficult to watch it happen to such a well-liked member of the locker room, not to mention a productive and young one. Pitta, who is still just 30 years old, showed all the signs of being a breakout offensive star.

In 2012, the 2010 fourth-round pick out of BYU caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. He established himself as Flacco's favorite target.

Pitta hauled in 14 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns during Baltimore's Super Bowl XLVII run, including a touchdown in the championship game.

While Jacoby Jones' Mile High Miracle in Denver stole the show and tied the divisional playoff game, Pitta's leaping catch on third-and-13 in overtime, when the Ravens were backed up to their own 3-yard line, helped Baltimore pull out a win. A punt in that situation would have been disastrous.

If this does end up being the end of Pitta's career, after just five seasons, he'll finish with 138 career receptions for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns. The stats wouldn't nearly reflect his talent.

Pitta was asked whether he can, if this is the end, find contentment with his shortened career.

"Obviously, I don't want to have to think about that right now," he said. "Certainly, that's not how I want to end my career. I don't think any player wants to play their last play getting carted off the field. I'll continue working hard and hopefully that won't be the end to the story."

Even if Pitta could play again, there's always the chance that it may not be in purple and black. Pitta's base salary next year, a reported $5 million, is not guaranteed. It would still cost the Ravens in dead cap money due to signing bonuses, however.

But nobody was talking about that Wednesday. Pitta wasn't the only one to feel the sting of Wednesday's decision. The pain reverberated around the team's facility.

Flacco didn't have to talk to Pitta this morning to know he had a tough conversation. He could tell just by looking at him.

"You feel for him," Flacco said. "You know he wants to be back out here. ... He's a great player. He helped me out a ton."

"It's been kind of a roller coaster ride," Harbaugh said, reflecting on his emotions of* *watching Pitta succeed, then go down on each of his two hip injuries.

Harbaugh was obviously hoping Pitta would be able to play, just like everyone. But, after being in "really in-depth meetings" with Pitta, his wife and doctors, Harbaugh didn't at all fault him for making the tough decision not to suit up this year.

"His safety going forward as far as quality of life overrides all," Harbaugh said. "It's not really close. You don't bat an eye and you move on."

And so Pitta will move on too, still hopeful, still fighting.

"I'll continue to rehab and do everything I can to make sure I'm healthy and make sure I put myself in the best position I can," Pitta said. "Right now, it's not safe enough."

A look at tight end Dennis Pitta throughout his career in Baltimore since 2010.

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