Kevin Gorman: Steelers' Stephon Tuitt gives greatest gift
Stephon Tuitt had a big bag of coal in his locker, so big you would have thought the Steelers defensive end had made Santa's naughty list this Christmas.
Truth be told, it was a bag of charcoal. Tuitt, who loves to grill out, got a Green Egg from a teammate in their Secret Santa exchange.
So, Tuitt is on the nice list — somewhere near the top, if you ask his mother.
Tamara Tuitt and her three younger sons will spend their first Christmas in their new four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath townhouse in Johns Creek, Ga.
It was a gift from Stephon, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension in September.
“It was a reaction that I will never be able to describe, just happiness that I have to be able to do something like that for my mother,” said Stephon, 24.
“To me, it means a lot. I could be out here doing all sorts of other things with the money that I'm receiving. But that's the whole point of money, you know? Each person is different, and they have different ways they want to spend it. For me, I like to invest it in my future and also take care of the people who are important to me — and she was one of the main priorities. To be able to help my mom out in that process is huge for me. She did a lot for me.”
Tamara is a single mother who works as a deputy for the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department, and her hourlong commute each day while Stephon was in high school inspired her oldest son. She was tough and strict but knew it was better for him to follow her rules than break the law.
“She worked inside the jail, so you never want to be on her bad side,” Tuitt said. “She knew how to take you down, no matter how big you are. That's what they teach, those tactics.”
Stephon is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, so he smiles when I ask if his mother can still take him down.
“No, I don't think so,” Tuitt said. “I feel like she'd try, and I may let her and make her feel good, but she really can't right now. But she still has a taser on her and a weapon, so maybe she'd be able to take me down a lot faster.”
Counters Tamara: “I could take him down now.”
Tamara steered Stephon to Notre Dame for the education and exposure the Fighting Irish's national schedule provides, and that's where he learned to look at the big picture financially.
That's why Stephon invested in his future, steering the money from his rookie contract into a retirement fund and a savings plan for his 3-year-old son.
When Tuitt earned his extension, which included a $13 million signing bonus, he turned his focus to his mother and brothers Richard (20), Jared (16) and Jaeden (eight).
The family closed on the new home during the Steelers' bye week in November, just in time for Thanksgiving. Tamara called it “fantastic” and is excited to celebrate the holidays there.
“I'm overly excited, shall I say,” Tamara said by phone, gushing about her master bedroom and gourmet kitchen. “That was my Christmas present, absolutely.
“He was ecstatic to do something for me. He wasn't pressured into it. It was something he wanted to do. I'm so thankful and blessed, and grateful that he was able to do it in a way that it doesn't set him back.”
For Tuitt, it's the payoff for all of his mother's sacrifices as well as his own. He will miss Christmas Day with his immediate family, but has one more gift to share — one he will deliver to many homes in Pittsburgh and around the nation.
“My biggest gift is to be playing for all of the Steelers fans, going to the Texans and playing a hard-fought game and getting a win out of it,” Tuitt said. “I would say for the first time I don't mind playing on Christmas, for my family to watch me to play from inside the home that we purchased together.”
That Tuitt knows he didn't do it alone is the greatest gift of all.