The Pittman family group text has never been busier.
Michael Pittman Jr. and his younger brother Mycah can’t sling trash talk fast enough. Their father, Michael Pittman Sr., encourages it all. The Super Bowl-winning running back interjects with a “tell him then!” when Mycah lands a particularly strong jab.
A champion in this family feud will be crowned Saturday when Michael Jr. and USC host Mycah and No. 7 Oregon.
“We have to win because I’m never ever going to hear the end of it,” USC’s senior receiver said. “He always wants to beat me. He has little brother syndrome.”
An Oregon win might cure that ailment for Mycah.
“I was like if we beat you, I’m big brother now,” the freshman receiver told reporters in Eugene this week.
But for as competitive as the brothers are, they’re just as supportive of each other. So when it comes to the first — and possibly only — Pittman Bowl of their collegiate careers, the family can’t lose no matter the final score at the Coliseum.
“I want to see him do better than me all the time,” Mycah said. “I obviously want that. He pushes me and I push him.”
The brothers rarely played on the same teams as kids because of their four-year age gap. That left room for Michael Jr. to be Mycah’s biggest cheerleader instead of a direct competitor.
Michael Jr. saw the way his brother dominated in youth football and knew it would translate to higher levels, like when Mycah played varsity football as a freshman at Westlake Village Oaks Christian. It was the only season they shared a field.
“The stuff that he could do as a freshman coming into high school, it’s kind of like what he’s doing in college now,” said Michael Jr., who was a senior already commited to USC at the time. “He’s just opening people’s eyes.”
Since missing the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury, Mycah has wowed Oregon coaches and fans with his diving catches. He has 10 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown in four games for the the Ducks (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12), who are trying to enter the College Football Playoff discussion.
Oregon is a near certainty to win the Pac-12 North Division. The Ducks’ opponent in the conference title game could be USC (5-3, 4-1), which will finish first in the South if it wins out.
In his brother’s eyes, Mycah is Oregon’s best receiver. Michael Jr. says this with no disrespect intended. Just the protectiveness of an older brother.
“I just have confidence in my brother because I’ve seen what he can do,” he said.
The brothers lived apart for much of their childhood. Michael Jr. lived with his mother in California. Mycah and their father lived in Florida. The brothers reunited in Southern California when Mycah was 11 and they were nearly inseparable until Michael Jr. left for college.
He hoped they would team up again at USC. Instead, they’ll be on opposing sidelines Saturday.
“I told him that as much as I want him to play here, it’s his choice and his life and wherever he goes, I wish him the best,” Michael Jr. said. “I think he made a pretty good choice.”
Mycah joined 247Sports.com’s seventh-ranked recruiting class in the nation. The consensus four-star prospect was Oregon’s highest-rated receiver.
“His advice has been key for me through the recruitment process and through everything,” said Mycah, who played his final two seasons of high school at Calabasas. “So I’m very grateful for him just passing down his knowledge, and seeing his success now is just amazing.”
After being named honorable mention All-Pac-12 last year, Michael Jr. is earning increased national attention with 50 catches, 755 yards and seven touchdowns this season. His 232 yards receiving in USC’s upset over then-No. 10 Utah were the fifth-most in a game in school history.
Michael Jr. is the Trojans’ leader, a senior captain who steadies an offense piloted by a freshman quarterback. He is a long-limbed 6 feet 4, aggressively elevating over defenders for jump balls.
Little brother checks in at 5-11. Both pride themselves on never dropping passes, even in practice.
“They go full-speed,” said Jim Benkert, who coached both brothers at Oaks Christian. “All out.”
Benkert remembers repeatedly reminding the Pittmans to be careful of diving for catches in practice. Save it for the game, the coach advised. But they were just too competitive. Michael Jr., whom Benkert called “one of the best kids our society has to offer,” broke his collarbone in practice for the U.S. Army All-American game and didn’t play in the all-star showcase.
The brothers are equally as relentless when competing against each other off the field. They battle in the video game “Madden NFL.” Mycah is better, Michael Jr. concedes, even though he wants to test him again now that his younger brother is out of high school and has less free time.
Paint ball squarely belongs to big brother, though. In a one-on-one game about four years ago, Michael Jr. surprised Mycah and “lit him up” with seven shots, the older Pittman claims.
“His feelings were so hurt,” Michael Jr. recalled with a fond laugh. “He’s probably going to say that’s not how it happened, but that’s what happened.”
As for their football debate, the brothers can decide that Saturday.