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Original Issue

Bags to Riches

A Super Bowl ad tells an improbable tale

LISTEN TO Ephraim Salaam tell it, and you'd think that left guard Chester Pitts, who has started every game in Houston Texans history, would still be bagging groceries in San Diego if it weren't for him. "He's living a dream now," said Salaam, a Texans tackle. "He didn't even have the dream before he met me."

Salaam, sitting in a strategically lit locker room at the Rose Bowl, was being filmed for an NFL commercial that will air on Super Bowl Sunday. His anecdotal story was chosen ahead of 47 other players' who also submitted football-related shorts to fan voting on NFL.com. "You've got to clean that bull up," said Pitts good-naturedly while watching Salaam from a monitor in the back of the locker room. "It's like I didn't have one damn dream before I met Ephraim Salaam."

Like most true stories adapted for filming, a few liberties were taken during the production process, but for the most part the 60-second ad, shot over the course of 10 hours, is accurate. Pitts, an oboe player who went to a math and science high school in L.A., had never played football and was working at a supermarket while attending San Diego State when he met Salaam, who'd just graduated. One spring day in 1998 Pitts helped Salaam carry out his groceries and saw Salaam's new, black Corvette.

"That opened his eyes," said Salaam, who would be drafted by Atlanta. "He asked, 'How can I get a car like that?' I said, 'Not by playing the oboe.'" Inspired, the then 6'4", 305-pound Pitts walked on to State's football team and played four years. In 2002 he was a second-round draft pick of the Texans.

For the ad, in which Pitts (left) also appears, the players were spritzed with water and had their uniform pants rubbed with dirt to look as if they'd just left the field. "I don't sweat this much in a game," Salaam griped—though overall he was in a fine mood. "From bagging my groceries to playing with me in the NFL," he said of Pitts, "and now we're in the Super Bowl ... well, sort of."

The Pop Culture Grid

How do sports stars fit in?

Favorite author

Favorite magazine

I'm deathly afraid of ...

Hannah Montana is ...

Phrase I'm sick of hearing

MAYA MOORE UConn F

Khaled Hosseini

Any women's basketball magazine

Nothing

Everywhere

I'm so hood.

DANIEL GIBSON Cavaliers G

Dr. Seuss

Slam

Heights

Awesome. I watch her show on the Disney Channel

Practice is at 11 a.m.

SCOTT HARTNELL Flyers F

J.R.R. Tolkien

GQ

Drowning

A singer and Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter

Life is like a box of chocolates

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE Trail Blazers C-F

Stephen King

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Snakes

I don't know.

You know what I'm saying?

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IAN WHITE (OBOE AND LOCKER ROOM)

HIGH NOTE Salaam (left) inspired Pitts to go from oboist to offensive lineman.

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IAN WHITE (OBOE AND LOCKER ROOM)

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PETER AIKEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (PITTS IN ACTION)

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BOB CHILD/AP (MOORE)

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GREG NELSON (GIBSON)

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BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (HARTNELL)

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EVAN VUCCI/AP (ALDRIDGE)

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CBS/PHOTOFEST (CAT IN THE HAT)

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POCKET BOOKS (KING)

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RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI/REUTERS (SNAKE)

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PARAMOUNT PICTURES/PHOTOFEST (VERTIGO)

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WALT DISNEY VIDEO (MONTANA)