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Gramatica comes through

Two years after costing the Bucs a first-round bye, the kicker's five field goals produces one.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2002


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica remembers it, the plane ride home that night was quiet and draining for the team and particularly somber for him.

That was Christmas Eve, two long years ago.

That was when Gramatica missed a 40-yard field goal that would have given the Bucs a 17-14 victory in Green Bay, a division title and a first-round bye.

The Bucs lost 17-14 in overtime then lost 21-3 to the Eagles in the wild-card game.

For Gramatica, redemption tastes sweet.

"Nobody wanted to redeem himself more than him from that day in Green Bay in 2000," linebacker Derrick Brooks said.

"I think in his mind, going into this ballgame, he wanted to come out and show that he could be depended upon. That he is a Pro Bowl kicker."

Did he ever do it. In chilly temperatures the Bucs previously had always lost in, Gramatica savored revenge by making five field goals and accounting for all of the Bucs' points in a 15-0 victory against the Bears on Sunday.

"That's what coach said when he got here," linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "Our offense is going to play well. Our defense is going to play well, and our kicker is going to kick important field goals for us.

"In the bottom of the ninth, we know Barry Bonds is going to come up and hit a home run to win it. That's what Martin does for us."

The victory not only ended cold-weather doubts and vaulted the Bucs into a first-round bye, it helped Gramatica move a step further away from that day at Lambeau Field.

"I try not to remember too much of that (day), to be honest," Gramatica said. "I don't really like to talk about it. But hopefully, this will quiet that talk forever. Put it away forever."

It won't erase Gramatica's miss, but it will write a new chapter in the Gramatica folklore.

A third-round pick in 1999, Gramatica has been one of the Bucs' steadiest performers during the past three seasons and was rewarded with a seven-year contract in January.

Sunday, he kicked field goals of 30, 32, 33, 26 and 33 yards.

"It was a great team effort," Gramatica said. "You saw what the defense did. You saw how (backup quarterback) Rob Johnson got us in field-goal range, and the entire field goal team did an awesome job. The guys were blocking, (long snapper Ryan Benjamin) had great snaps, and (holder Tom Tupa) put them down perfectly. It was a great, great win.

"I'm just glad to help the team out. It feels great when you do the things right and help your team win. You definitely enjoy the flight back."

Tupa said Gramatica has showed tremendous poise and consistency this season considering he had to deal with a new holder and three snappers during the season.

"He was money," Tupa said. "He's been doing it all year, and he did it again (Sunday). His timing was good. He was striking the ball well, and the rest is history."

Added special teams coach Rich Bisaccia: "I think the entire team and the coaching staff has tremendous confidence in him. They see him working in practice, and they know he can make those kicks. He comes to bat every time and takes a full swing.

"I wasn't here (two years ago), but all I know is whether he makes them or misses them, he comes right back and goes at it again. He's got great work ethic. He is a Pro Bowl kicker."

Defensive tackle Warren Sapp pointed out there were occasions last season when Gramatica single-handedly won the game.

"He's special," Sapp said. "He's special."

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