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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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How good is Gradkowski? How's rebuilding going?
By GARY SHELTON and JOHN ROMANO
Published October 22, 2006
This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano focuses on quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the Eagles and the process of rebuilding the Bucs.
JR: Gary, I've been wondering about this all week. Does Bruce Gradkowski go directly to sainthood or does he stop first at the Pro Football Hall of Fame? And will there be a turf war between the pope and the commissioner over this?
GS: Eventually, Bruce will be commissioner. And pope. And president and Academy Award winner and Scarlett Johansson's prom date. Meanwhile, I think we should all shave our heads.
JR: It's hard not to like the kid. He hasn't been perfect, but he has been captivating. He throws. He runs. He pukes, and he's had two straight fourth-quarter comebacks. It's like watching Brett Favre without the drawl. Now all he has to do is continue at the same pace for the next 16 years or so.
GS: That's what I like about you. You don't ask for much. Of course, if you want Gradkowski to succeed for 16 quarters, let alone years, you better have some expectations for Cadillac Williams and the defense.
JR: I thought the offensive line and the defense both looked better against the Bengals. I have a feeling the OL might be on an upward path, but I'm not sure if the defense can sustain it. How much optimism are you willing to risk?
GS: I'm giddy with it. The Bucs are coming off a big victory, and they're about to play the Eagles. Why it's exactly the same situation as the 2002 NFC Championship Game. Or not.
JR: If you close your eyes, you can almost see Ronde Barber running down the sideline. You can feel old Veterans Stadium shaking. You can smell ... well I'm not sure what that smell was, but I'm reasonably certain it had something to do with the stadium being torn down.
GS: Nah. It was the odor of grinding old footballs into cheese-steak meat. That night seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? That was before Rick left Ilsa at the airport and Simeon disappeared.
JR: That was also the night Maj. Strasser was shot - and the Bucs listed him as probable for the rest of World War II.
GS: Don't knock Strasser. He was the Bucs' best corner.
JR: Since that night, the Bucs are 24-29 with a Super Bowl victory. The Eagles are 35-19 with a Super Bowl loss. Would you trade one for the other?
GS: Absolutely not. In the NFL, a Super Bowl victory makes a walk through the desert worth it. But you can't help but think the Bucs should have maintained their excellence a little longer.
JR: I don't have a problem with them not sustaining it any longer. At that point, they had already been contenders for six years. My bigger issue is they've since had three years to rebuild and are 1-4 today.
GS: I would argue they had only been serious contenders for three, but that's quibbling. They didn't recognize the warning signs. Which brings us to today. Donovan McNabb will test the Bucs deep more often than the Bengals did, and Jim Johnson (not that one) is going to test Gradkowski. So how tough will the tests be, Mr. Chips?
JR: Tougher than Algebra II but not quite as bad as trigonometry. It'd help if they could get a copy of the test the night before.
GS: No, what would help would be if the Bucs could arrange for Terrell Owens to line up in the Eagles huddle, which would make McNabb throw up again. Maybe that's the best thing you can say about Gradkowski. He can throw up without being prompted.