Share This Page

Starkey: Savage earns respect

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 10:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage throws against Notre Dame on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Tom Savage could have played this all differently.

The man had one season to impress pro scouts. He could have made Oakland quite literally a Pitt stop on his way to the NFL Combine. He could have been aloof. He could have subtly preserved his body by ducking more hits. Nobody would have known the difference.

Well, nobody but Savage — and he wouldn't have been able to live with himself

“Thirty years from now, I'm not going to look back and be like, ‘Man, I wish I would have preserved myself for the NFL,' ” Savage said. “The only thing you're ever going to regret is being a coward. This is what I'm going to look back on and remember in my life. If it works out in the NFL, so be it. That's a bonus. Right now, these are my guys. You just have to go out there and play for them and put your body on the line sometimes.”

Savage was something of a mystery when the season began. The only people who remembered his last game were watching Rutgers football in 2010, and who would admit to that? Nobody knew what coach Paul Chryst was getting besides a dead ringer for Nicolas Cage.

The book on Savage — at least the copy I received — was that he could make all the throws but wasn't real keen on the contact thing. Possibly a pretty passer who disintegrated the instant he got smacked in the chin.

That book was dead wrong.

Savage, as it turns out, willingly accepts his beatings and sometimes even seeks them. Like the maniacal, motorcycle-riding Cage in “Ghost Rider,” he has some daredevil in him. Take the play Saturday when Savage lowered his head and crashed into a 6-foot-6, 330-pound human destroyer ship — The S.S. Tuitt.

Savage (6-5, 230) is big. Notre Dame's star defensive end, Stephon Tuitt, is much bigger. Savage is slow. Tuitt is fast.

Tuitt got kicked out of the game. Savage is lucky he didn't get knocked out of the game.

“Honestly, I told him, ‘I didn't think you were getting up,' ” Pitt quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger said. “You've seen those before, where you get 'em in the side of the head. Those scare you. And that's a big dude (Tuitt). I was happy to see Tom get up, and a little surprised.”

So was guard Ryan Schlieper.

“He comes back to the huddle and says, ‘I don't think I can take another hit like that,' ” Schlieper said. “I was like, ‘Are you all right?' He said, ‘I'm fine, I'm just kidding with you.' One thing you can consistently say about Tommy: He's tough.”

Players want a quarterback who can play, obviously, but they also want one they can respect — a leader who says and does the right things. Savage is that guy. His linemen love him.

After a 19-9 loss to Virginia Tech — one in which Pitt gave up eight sacks — Savage told reporters that he has “the best (darn) line in the country.” It meant a lot.

“The line, as a unit, we weren't feeling too good about ourselves,” Schlieper recalled. “Then we got on the bus and read that quote on the Internet and said, ‘Wow.' There were a lot of mistakes from the line, a lot of times we personally got him hit, and he says that?”

The hard truth is that Pitt's in a rebuilding mode after the chaos that engulfed the program. There isn't enough talent yet. It's going to be ugly at times. But instead of separating himself, which he easily could have done, Savage has immersed himself in the struggle.

Bollinger, a quarterback for five NFL seasons, was impressed with Savage from the minute they met.

“He never tried to force it, as far as pushing himself into a leadership role,” Bollinger said. “He got to know the guys, took his time and was very authentic. The biggest thing I take is he hasn't been worried about himself. He's gone out there and laid it on the line.”

Still, Bollinger would sometimes prefer Savage to opt for discretion over valor.

So let's imagine the next situation: Five yards for a first down, and Savage leaves the pocket.

How does that play out?

“I'm going to make sure I get it for these guys,” Savage said, “and then learn to get down after that.”

Really? Get down? Does he think he will?

Savage laughed.

“No.”

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.