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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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By JOANNE KORTH
Published January 2, 2005
TAMPA - With a crowd of curious teammates gathered around on a sunny afternoon, running back Michael Pittman turned the key on his Suzuki racing motorcycle. It roared to life with a throaty rumble on the sidewalk in front of One Buc Place.
Talk about a burst of speed.
Like something out of a James Bond movie, Pittman's bike has a switch he flips to activate a nitrous oxide system that sends an additional 20-plus horsepower to the massive rear tire, on top of the 115 horses the gasoline engine produces.
"How fast do you go on this thing," guard Cosey Coleman said.
About 185 mph on a quarter-mile strip.
"Get out of here," Coleman said.
That would be the point of owning a TL 1000R street racing bike: to get out of here.
In a hurry.
"This is probably one of the fastest legal bikes on the street right now," Pittman said. "The fastest I've gone on it was 185 on a track out in Phoenix. The fastest I've gone on the street - I'm not going to lie - I've gone about 120. But it could easily get over 200 miles an hour with the nitrous system I've got."
Pittman's bike - his "toy" - is more than a machine. It is a tribute to custom accessories. As if the 2002 model were not flashy enough in its stock form, Pittman's is totally tricked out.
Custom brakes with braided lines.
Yoshimura racing exhaust system.
The seat is crushed velvet. Japanese lettering on the wind shield spells out "Bad Boy." The bike is lowered two inches in the front, three in the back for aerodynamics and, of course, because it looks good. A picture of Pittman's son, Mycah, is taped to the handle bars.
Lots and lots of chrome.
"It was like a project, and this is the finished product," he said.
Don't forget the matching helmet.
"Always wear a helmet," Pittman said. "Don't try to be cool and not wear your helmet. I was in an accident in Arizona and if I hadn't had my helmet on I probably wouldn't be standing here. I was on the freeway and some guy cut me off and I rolled going about 70 mph, but I got up and walked away."
Pittman does most of his riding in the NFL offseason on sunny days at reasonable speeds. So, if you happen to see a man with really big biceps riding around Tampa Bay on a 400-pound, pewter-and-red racing bike, feel free to gawk. Pittman doesn't mind.
"It's just you and the bike in the wind," he said. "And, of course, I've got an attractive bike so people are looking. I'm proud of my bike. I have fun on it."
Pittman, who also has a Big Dog chopper for laid-back rides, fell in love with motorcycles growing up in San Diego. When he reached the NFL in 1998, Pittman bought his first bike, a 600 Suzuki.
A few years later, he traded up to the TL 1000R, which cost about $11,500 new. Pittman estimates he has spent $30,000 customizing the bike. And there is just one more thing he wants.
"Revolver bar ends for the grips with little bullets on the end," said Pittman, smiling at his own indulgence. "After that I'll be completely done. There won't be anything else I can do to it."