Allen Pitts - Wide Receiver- 1990-2001 - Cal State Fullerton
Piecing together the Pitts puzzle By DAN TOTH, CALGARY SUN - September 5, 2004
All Stampeder fans know of Allen Pitts. Between 1990 and 2000, the receiver recorded his name throughout the team's -- and the league's -- record books. That's why his name will be added to McMahon Stadium's Wall of Fame during halftime of tomorrow's Labour Day Classic. Although many know of Pitts, very few people actually know him.
This reserved and sometimes reclusive athlete remained a mystery man from the time he arrived in Cowtown to the time he left the city and the CFL upon his release four years ago. Sun football writer Dan Toth talks to the people who know Pitts best to try to piece together a picture of a man who's widely admired by many but known by so few.
- - -
Bright, sullen, outgoing, introverted, talented, tormented and ultimately misunderstood. While Allen Pitts' brilliance on the football field was easily defined, describing him outside the white lines is almost as difficult as it was defending against him.
The former Stamps receiver dominated the CFL in the 1990s while also grabbing hold of the league record books. But many of the men who knew him best -- his teammates and coaches -- are still bewildered when trying to define the sure-handed No. 18.
"I probably knew Allen as well as anybody," notes former Stampeders head coach-GM Wally Buono, who released the 11-year veteran after the 2000 season.
"He was a private person and he had his upside and downside. He had a serious side and a goofy side. The thing about Allen was he was a competitor with a tremendous desire to get better and it was never good enough in his mind.
"He was one of the biggest jokesters on the team and at other times he was as sullen as could be, so that was Allen. When he stepped on the field he was consistent, worked his butt off and always tried to get better and always tried to get more out of himself. As consistent as he was on the field, his personality was that much different."
Buono had the dual role of not only coaching Pitts but helping him through a variety of off-field problems both in Calgary and back home in California. Pitts, who is currently involved in a construction business in Los Angeles, had struggles away from the game that were often an issue but never as serious as reported, claims Buono.
"You loved him for what he was and you put up with what he was because he was a great player but down deep you knew he had a desire to succeed and get better which never confused you," Buono says.
"We all have quirks about ourselves and any time he had something to deal with (off the field) it was dealt with and we moved on. We had off-field issues with a lot of players but Allen's were always blown out of proportion because it was Allen Pitts."
"He'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it," insists former teammate and coach Danny Barrett.
"He went through some tough times at the end of his career and it made him work just that much harder to get back to the top."
Barrett admits Pitts occasionally appeared aloof but it was his withdrawn nature off the field simply misinterpreted by others.
"I think so but that's not the way he was at all," claims Barrett, who threw Pitts the ball as a quarterback and later coached him.
"If you approached Allen and got talking to him, he was a kind, gentle human being with a kind heart, a good heart. He always wanted to do what was right and what was best.
"A lot of times people tend to want to get close to you for the wrong reasons and I always felt he was a little leery of that. You can't blame him or anybody else. For the right reasons he'd befriend anybody. Once you got to know him the guy was unmatched, I'll tell you that. I'm happy to see he's being honoured by the Stampeders."
Former Stamps receiver Vince Danielsen (1994-01), who won a Grey Cup with Pitts in 1998, says his former teammate was a great leader on the field but a difficult person to grow close to away from the game.
"One thing with Allen was I didn't think I really knew him that well," Danielsen acknowledges. "He was a little bit more to himself. When it came to doing things outside the football arena, we didn't see him that much. There were guys he had closer relationships with but I didn't have that with him. After my third year, I'd had a good year and the next year I went to lunch with him and I was searching for his help and I really remember him coming to the table with a lot of support. Even though he wasn't a guy who was outgoing, if you went to him for help, he was there for you.
"He wasn't an outward guy in the locker-room, he was more to himself but he was always a professional."
Danielsen, who has since become a successful businessman in Calgary, laments Pitts' inability to put down roots in the city and make a career here after football.
"He was misunderstood, for sure," Danielsen says. "Some of the things that happened through the media ... I think he shut the media out and that's never a great thing to do. If you're not going to talk they're going to write what they want. That's too bad and I hated to see how he left the game. He deserved better on all sides.
"That said, I'm happy he's being honoured (tomorrow) because we have to throw all that other stuff aside and ... it's time to celebrate a person who really was one of the greatest players in Stampeders history."
Former Stamps offensive co-ordinator George Cortez worked as closely with Pitts as anyone. He says he knew the player well but never the man inside the uniform.
"He didn't live in town in the off-season and the guys you get to know best were the one's that stayed in Calgary in the off-season," Cortez says.
"I can't say I got to know him very well.
"The one thing about those teams through the '90s, and Allen is the personification of that, is the tremendous pride in what they did. One thing you could always depend on if we didn't play very well is the next week we were going to play great and Allen led that.
"He wanted the ball and there's something to say for that."
Buono says releasing Pitts before the 2001 season was a difficult decision, based primarily on finances and the receiver's declining skills.
"When time starts catching up to great players like Allen Pitts, you can't ease them out because there isn't room on the rosters to do that," Buono says. "You have to do an about face and turn your back on them which is a sad commentary but its the reality and it's never a pleasant thing.
"With Allen, whether you liked him or didn't like him, as a contributor to the Calgary Stampeders I haven't personally seen anyone greater."
Coming from Buono, that might be the most important description of all.
-- statistics --