Mike Pitts, an under-rated force on the Buddy Ryan defense, has died at 61

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Mike Pitts, an under-rated force on the legendary Eagles defenses of the late 1980s and early 1990s, has died. He was 61.

Pitts was overshadowed by all-pros like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons and Jerome Brown, but he was a steady, productive, consistent interior lineman on some of the best defenses in franchise history.

“Such sad news,” tweeted long-time ESPN broadcaster Mike Golic, Pitts’ teammate for six years. “A great teammate, a great friend, as tough as they come, with a huge heart. Such a great group of guys to play with, and we are losing too many of them.”

Pitts, a Baltimore native, played college football at Alabama and was the Falcons’ 1st-round pick in 1983, No. 16 overall.

He spent four years in Atlanta, piling up 25 sacks, which ranked 6th among all NFL defensive tackles during that period.

After the 1986 season, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan set out to acquire Pitts from the Falcons, and six days before opening day the Eagles traded veteran defensive end Greg Brown to the Falcons, where he was reunited with his former Eagles coach, Marion Campbell, in exchange for Pitts.

“He’s a smart guy and a fast guy,” Ryan said after acquiring Pitts. “Those are two things you can’t coach. Plus, he’s been around for about four years, so you expect him to be around for seven or eight more.”

Pitts had been holding out for a new contract in Atlanta before the trade was made.

“I feel Philadelphia is one of the teams where I can come in and make an impact,” Pitts said at the time. “We’ve been asking for (a trade) ever since we started negotiating with the Falcons. I felt my playing time would be limited this season.”


Pitts spent the next six years with the Eagles, playing in 75 games and starting 59. He had 19 1/2 sacks, including 7.0 in 1989.

Pitts was very quiet and in a locker room with personalities like White, Brown, Simmons, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, Wes Hopkins, Byron, Keith Jackson, Randall Cunningham, Keith Byars and Andre Waters it was easy to forget just how good Pitts was.

But during his six years in Philadelphia, the Eagles went 59-36 - the 5th-best record in the NFL - and led the league with 316 sacks and 263 takeaways. Pitts started 15 games in 1991, when the Eagles had the No. 1 rush defense and No. 1 pass defense in the league and allowed 221.8 yards per game, the lowest in history in a 16-game season and lowest by any team since the 1974 Steelers allowed 219.6 per game. Both units were coached by Bud Carson.

Pitts ranks seventh in Eagles history among defensive tackles with his 19 1/2 sacks. Fletcher Cox has the most at 55 1/2.

The Eagles released Pitts before training camp in 1992, and Patriots coach Bill Parcells called the next day and offered him a contract. He finished his career spending two years in New England.

Pitts’ 48 1/2 career sacks were 5th-most in history by a defensive tackle when he retired after the 1994 season.

In all, Pitts played 12 seasons, starting 123 games, playing in 169 and made 814 tackles. He scored his only career touchdown in 1986 at Texas Stadium when he recovered a Danny White fumble after White was sacked by Rick Bryan and returned it 22 yards. He recorded his only career interception in 1985 when he picked off Rams QB Dieter Brock at Fulton County Stadium.

Pitts is one of numerous members of those terrific Eagles defenses of the late 1980s and early 1990s who has died.

Brown was just 27 when he died in 1992, White died in 2004 at 43, Todd Bell in 2005 at 46, Waters in 2006 at 44 and Hopkins in 2018 at 57.