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'I'm just one of the lucky ones'

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000


At age 24, Argentinian-born kicker Martin Gramatica's world is shaped by so many experiences. Gramatica talks with the Times' Roger Mills about country music, raising hogs, playing soccer, Argentina, Jennifer Lopez and the art of tackling.

RM: Country music?

MG: I like country music. I don't know the superstars, although I know who Garth Brooks is, but I just put the radio on the country station and listen to everything. People get into my car and say: "Hey, you listen to country music?" It's always a big shocker.

RM: Why country music?

MG: Hey, I grew up in LaBelle and went to school at Kansas State. I think of the three stations that we got, two-and-a-half were playing country music. I didn't have much choice.

RM: Was it difficult going to Kansas State?

MG: It was because I was away from my family for the first time and it was really far. I wanted to stay around here and play but I didn't get the chance because no one knew about me. But the winters just killed me. When I took my visit it was the summertime so it was beautiful, but when that wind and snow came it was a horrible place.

RM: You raised prized hogs?

MG: I did in high school. I was in 4-H so I had the hat, the boots, the belt, the whole thing. I remember my brother once won a second runner-up title. It was fun because they eat anything. We had a lot of leftovers from the pizza place so feeding them was never a problem. And we really didn't have to do too much cleaning up, just hosed them down a little.

RM: Were you surprised when the Bucs selected you in the third round?

MG: I wanted to get drafted as high as you can get and I guess as a kicker you have to be surprised when you get drafted that high. I didn't now what was going to happen. I remember sitting and watching the draft and I knew it wasn't going to be the first round so I relaxed. I kind of started watching in midway through the second round and then by the middle of the third round I started to get worried because I didn't want it to go to the second day.

RM: And then the Bucs called, right?

MG: I couldn't believe it. I had met coach before and I knew his voice and when he called I almost dropped the phone and then I looked at the screen and realized that it was the Bucs turn to pick. My whole family was there and they were so excited. Coach just asked me if I was healthy and I said I was and he said, "Okay, then we're going to take you right now." Seconds later the announcement came over the screen. It was an unbelievable experience.

RM: Do you remember your first year in America?

MG: I was 8. At first it was hard not knowing any English and going to school. I would sit in class all day and not know anything. The only thing I could do was the math, so it was really a big shock.

RM: How fast did you learn English?

MG: I had to learn fast. I took classes in Argentina and I could say words, this and that, but I couldn't really communicate. I would say in the first few months I was communicating but it wasn't perfect. Then, by a year, I was communicating pretty good. I'm still not perfect.

RM: What enabled you to learn a second language that quickly?

MG: It was definitely school and the need to be able to communicate. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't talk to anyone. I was lost. People thought I was dumb because I couldn't communicate. RM: What do you miss about Argentina?

MG: I think of how beautiful it is. Buenos Aires is really a very European city and it's striking. The other thing is the passion of the people. The passion they have for everything.

RM: Jim Rome says your helmet is too big. Is it?

MG: I think that must be true because when I see some myself, I say: "I can't believe I'm wearing that helmet." I'm going to have to wait until the off-season (to change it). I guess my head's in between sizes. The smaller one is too tight and this one's too big.

RM: Warren Sapp said you're the best kicker in the game, is that true?

MG: I really don't consider myself the best. I'm just one of the lucky ones who can kick in the NFL.

RM: Can you kick a 65-yarder?

MG: Right now, my range is definitely 55 yards, but it depends on the field conditions. I believe I could do 65 yards. I'm confident I can get it there but the question is would it be straight and through the uprights.

RM: Jennifer Lopez or Salma Hayek?

MG: Jennifer Lopez and everybody knows why. No, she seems really down to earth and I would really like to meet her. It would be nice to talk to her someday. Salma Hayek, I saw her on a talk show and I wasn't impressed.

RM: Brandi Chastain or Mia Hamm?

MG: Brandi Chastain. Mia gets a lot of the hype, but I think Brandi is the real heart of that team. I'm kind of jealous of her. Her arms are bigger than mine.

RM: Is it true that you haven't had a cola in 12 years?

MG: I was 12 and I said I would never touch another Coke or Pepsi or cola and I haven't. Never. I drink iced tea. A lot of times it's hard. I remember one time we went fishing and all we had to drink was Diet Coke, I went thirsty the whole day. I just couldn't do it.

RM: Rate your ability to tackle?

MG: The stats say I have two. I don't know how good they were. I think I pushed Desmond Howard out of bounds, once. Honestly, there are times when I look up and say, "This guy's twice as big, twice as fast and probably twice as strong and here I have to tackle him, what can I do? You just have to stick your head in there and hope.

RM: Ever been scared?

MG: Not before, but after. I remember after (then-Redskins returner) Brian Mitchell ran me over I thought to myself that that was one of the stupidest things I could ever have done. It happens so fast, though, you really don't have time to get scared. It's part of the game and I'm part of the team.

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