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Gramatica parents live dream

Family enjoys Hawaii but ponders next season with two sons kicking in the NFL and another at USF.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001


HONOLULU -- While watching the kicks flutter in the breeze that whipped through Aloha Stadium the other day, it dawned on Guillermo Gramatica that it's not just the uprights that will be split on Sundays next fall.

"Now we have a real dilemma," he said. "Where are we going to go? Who do we follow?"

For two seasons, the Gramaticas needed only to travel north from LaBelle about 21/2 hours to Tampa to watch their sons play at Raymond James Stadium.

Martin, a third-round draft pick by the Bucs in '99, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl this season. Bill, a senior at the University of South Florida last season who lived with his brother in Tampa, is expected to be among the first placekickers selected in the draft in April.

The youngest Gramatica son, Santiago, will try to fill Bill's kicking shoes at South Florida next season as a freshman.

As a family -- Guillermo; wife Laura; Bill; and Santiago -- took nearly an entire row at the NFC Pro Bowl practice. Nobody watched more intently than Bill, who is so close to the NFL he tries to imagine which of the all-stars he will share a locker room with next season.

"One of these guys is going to be my teammate next year," Bill said. "Especially since there's someone here from almost every team."

At South Florida, Bill punctuated his outstanding career with a 63-yard field goal in his final game. It rates as the second-longest field goal without a tee in Division I history since Martin kicked a 65-yarder for Kansas State.

"I think that helped out a lot for people to see I could kick that range," Bill said. "I tried one earlier in the year at Baylor from 61, and I missed that one wide. But it had the distance by about 10 yards. I killed that one."

His post-season appearances haven't hurt his NFL chances, either. In the Blue-Gray Classic, Bill kicked four field goals and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He added a 44-yard field goal at the East-West Shrine Game.

Being able to live, work and train with his older brother should help Bill adapt to the pressure of the NFL, Martin said.

"I think it's helped him," Martin said. "Everything he's had to go through, I've been there with him. We run and lift, and being with him, whatever he needs I'm there for him. And he went through it, too, with me. So he already knows what to expect. I think he'll be fine."

If Martin has taught Bill one lesson in two NFL seasons, it is how small the difference is between celebration and despair.

"Every kick could mean the difference between winning and losing in the NFL," Bill said.

"When we watch Martin, we're more nervous than he is because we can't do anything about it. It's more nerve-racking than it is for the person making the kick. He gets really nervous when I'm out there."

Martin had an outstanding season, at one point making a club-record 16 straight field goals, including a 46-yarder in a downpour to win at Miami.

That performance was good enough to earn him his first appearance in the Pro Bowl. But it is the kick that Gramatica missed -- a 40-yarder at Green Bay that would have won the NFC Central title and given the Bucs a bye in the playoffs -- that his 2000 season will be remembered for.

"The thing I remember the most is how much support I got from coaches and teammates," Martin said. "That means a lot. Nobody was pointing fingers, even though I let us down. I still feel like it was my fault because I had everything right there to put us through. But when it didn't go through, I was going to do everything to put us in a better position next year.

"For me, personally, the thing I'm most proud of was coming back from the preseason (after missing his first three field-goal attempts). That was tough. That's something I've never experienced. To be able to do that, it meant something. I'm just glad I didn't do it in the regular season."

Instead, Martin was able to rebound from his preseason slump with a Pro Bowl performance. In return for his family's support, he picked up the expenses for their first trip to Hawaii. Martin has kicked at Aloha Stadium before, when Kansas State played Boston College in the Hula Bowl.

"But this, it's like a dream come true. I never expected it, especially my second year," Martin said.

"I think it's two different feelings. At the beginning of the year, you have two goals: to win a Super Bowl and hopefully to come here. One is certainly different from the other because winning a Super Bowl would mean a lot more than being here. But I'm not going to say I'm not happy to be here because I'm proud to be here."

No one is prouder than Guillermo, a former pro soccer player in Argentina who brought his family to Miami from Buenos Aires in '84.

"I don't have the words," Guillermo said. "We dreamed this. Now we're living in the reality of a dream. Hard to describe. Very happy. Not only good players, but good sons."

So which son does he follow next season?

"We're going to stay with Bill all the time for his first year. We'll be back and forth a couple times," Guillermo said. "Martin is going to have Santiago, and they'll live together. It's the system we've decided on now.

Then he added, "But sometime, we would like to come back here."

To watch two sons in the Pro Bowl?

"Oh. That's another dream," Guillermo said.

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