Oct. 2, 2009
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Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Michael Titley’s love of travel led him to a dream job. His love of daughters Tulani and Tendai led him back to the University of Iowa.
Titley played tight end for the Hawkeye football team in 1989 and 90, where he caught 51 passes for 536 yards and three touchdowns. He was the 275th player selected in the 1991 NFL Draft, going in the 10th round to Miami. From there, Titley bounced around NFL training camps and the World League of American Football, but like Hawkeye football colleagues Andre Tippett and Dallas Clark, he never ended the pursuit of an Iowa degree after his playing days. In the fall of 1992, Titley returned to complete a course here and there, but an actual diploma was still a ways down the road.
“I just kept going after it and pursuing,” Titley said. “I wanted my kids to say that both their parents were college graduates.”
Titley met his wife, Themba Aikens, while both were student-athletes at the UI. Aikens lettered in volleyball in 1991. When the couple was expecting their first child in 1997, Titley knew it was time to settle down. The helmet and pads came off and he accepted a job as a ramp agent for Continental Airlines in Chicago. The family relocated to Houston seven years later.
“I love traveling, so working for the airline industry made sense for me,” Titley said. “Traveling is one of my first loves.”
In November of 1996, Titley returned to Iowa City to watch the Hawkeyes play Wisconsin. While eating supper the night before the game, he crossed paths with Fred Mims, associate athletic director at the UI. Mims talked to Titley about finishing his degree and offered to help get the ball rolling.
Titley continued to make slow, steady progress toward a bachelor’s degree while helping raise two daughters. Any spare time was spent writing papers and reading assignments. The goal was within sight.
“Andre Tippett was the first guy I remember doing that after he was successful with New England,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Dallas Clark did it recently. It says a lot about Mike, too.”
“I wanted to go where I could play right away. Iowa made sense for me because Marv Cook had just graduated. Iowa always featured the tight end and I wanted to go far away from New York City, be on my own and be independent.”
Former UI tight end
Titley is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended Nassau Community College, where he was a first team junior college All-American tight end in 1988 and honorable mention in 1987.
“I wanted to go where I could play right away,” he said. “Iowa made sense for me because Marv Cook had just graduated. Iowa always featured the tight end and I wanted to go far away from New York City, be on my own and be independent.”
During the process of selecting a secondary college, Titley was impressed with the honesty of UI assistant coach Bernie Wyatt, who had a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the New York/New Jersey area. There were several other Wyatt-recruited Hawkeyes from Titley’s neck of the woods, including Larry Blue, Phil Bradley, Danan Hughes, Leroy Smith and Moses Santos.
“Michael was a great kid. A great character kid,” Wyatt said. “He was a very good athlete and an excellent receiver.”
Titley’s first game at Iowa was an uncharacteristic 44-6 loss to Oregon inside Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 16, 1989. Despite the setback, Titley knew he belonged in Division I after making three catches for 70 yards and a long of 46.
“I played well in my first Division I-A game,” Titley said. “It made me feel good. I wanted to make sure Iowa knew it didn’t waste a scholarship on me.”
The Hawkeyes finished 5-6 in 1989 and then went 8-4 in 1990, winning the Big Ten championship with a 6-2 league mark and producing a Rose Bowl appearance.
Titley wore professional helmets for the Dolphins, Eagles, Colts, Vikings, Bills and Broncos. He played for the Orlando Thunder and London Monarchs in the WLAF.
“I realized once I was released by the Dolphins — I guess more so, the Eagles — that there was going to have to be a life after football,” Titley said.
After four years working in Chicago, the Titley family, which then included Michael, Themba and Tulani, moved to Houston, where Michael had a job at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Second daughter Tendai was born three years later. Themba had a college degree and Michael still felt the need to follow.
In May, 2009 — 18 years after first leaving the UI for the NFL — Titley returned to Iowa City. Even though he didn’t attend his high school or junior college commencement ceremonies, Titley was in attendance at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to be recognized for a degree in liberal studies. Also attending were his wife and daughters.
“I felt like a senior citizen on the stage, but better late than never,” said Titley, now 41. “When I heard my wife and kids yell my name, it was pretty emotional actually. My daughters thought it was the funniest thing in the world when I was wearing my cap and gown.”
“This says volumes about the type of person Michael is,” Wyatt said. “He has a good job. He came back to be a good example for his children.”
“Mike’s a tremendous guy,” Ferentz said. “You talk about a warm, friendly guy. He’s done very, very well professionally. This sends a powerful message and it’s very unique and unusual.”
Tulani is now 11 and Tendai is four. They are being raised in a household by two University of Iowa graduates. For Michael Titley, it is better late than never.