They are NFL tight ends who both went to high school in Oakland: Darnell Dinkins at Schenley and Jeff Dugan at Central Catholic, but they have never met.
They will share the same field today when Dugan and the Minnesota Vikings play Dinkins and the New Orleans Saints for the NFC Championship Game at the Superdome.
Where their matchup might be overshadowed by the AFC Championship Game featuring Pitt products Darrelle Revis of the N.Y. Jets and Clint Session of the Indianapolis Colts, only the NFC title game ensures that a Western Pennsylvania product will play in Super Bowl XLIV.
“That’s pretty remarkable,” said Dugan, in his sixth season out of Maryland. “It’s a football town, that’s for sure. That’s what you grow up playing and watching. It’s a way of life. It speaks volumes about the commitment and tradition of Western Pennsylvania football.”
Added Dinkins, an eighth-year player from Pitt: “It just goes show how much in Pittsburgh we love football. I didn’t realize that there’s somebody on an NFL roster in each game. I’m just trying to do something I’ve never done before, and that’s going to the Super Bowl. I think every kid that plays football, basketball, baseball dreams about playing for a championship, having the ball come your way.”
Where Revis and Session are starters, Dinkins and Dugan are backups who play mostly special teams. They have put up pedestrian statistics this season – Dinkins has five receptions for 22 yards and a touchdown, Dugan has six catches for 52 yards and two TDs – but both know the ring is the main thing.
“To be one game away from the Super Bowl, I can’t put it into words,” Dinkins said. “I’m just taking the time to take it all in … sometimes it goes so fast you don’t realize where you’re at.”
Dinkins’ story is all the more remarkable when you consider that he played a variety of positions at Pitt – from quarterback to safety to tight end – and made it to the NFL after a stint with the semi-pro Pittsburgh Colts. He hooked on with the N.Y. Giants when Sean Payton was an assistant there, and they have been reunited now that Payton is coaching the Saints.
“Sometimes it’s not always the way you planned for things to work out, but it’s better than you could ever imagine,” Dinkins said.
“When I look back on it, it’s amazing the obstacles I’ve faced and overcome. I see kids who don’t understand the process. I tell them, ‘The process is one thing you can hold onto. The process is what you make of it. The situation isn’t what determines whether you’re a success or failure, but your response to it.’”
When Dugan was a rookie, the Vikings lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round. This is the closest he’s come to the Super Bowl, although the expectant father – his wife, Lisa, is due with their first child March 1 – is guarded about getting ahead of himself.
But it doesn’t hurt having Brett Favre on his side.
“He is what he’s advertised to be,” Dugan said. “It’s not a facade. It’s not a persona. That’s what you get. That’s how he works, and he enjoys himself when he plays. He’s got a legend about how hard he throws. He can throw it.
“I don’t know if there was a missing piece. Everybody knew we had a good team. We won 10 games last year and lost in the first round of the playoffs. We knew what we were capable of. I think it was a realistic goal when the season started. Anything is possible.”
You can say that again.