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11-29-2006, 11:42 PM
Bucs' rookie starting QB a Seton-La Salle grad

By John Harris
Thursday, November 30, 2006

The convertible Jaguar stopped curbside at Tampa International Airport. And while the driver was familiar, the car he was driving looked completely out of place.

Upon second glance, Bruce Gradkowski Sr. realized the driver was his son, Bruce, starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, former star quarterback at the University of Toledo, and one of the best quarterbacks in WPIAL history.

"He picked us up at the airport in a Jaguar, a little convertible," the elder Gradkowski said Tuesday, five days before his oldest son was to lead Tampa Bay against the hometown Steelers at Heinz Field.

"He's trying to fit in," said Debbie Gradkowski, smiling at the memory of her husband's attempt to squeeze his large frame into the small sports car.

"I asked where he got the car," Gradkowski Sr. said. "He said, 'Joey let me use it.' "

It's a long way from Dormont and Seton-La Salle High School to the pros, but the kid who was always considered too short and whose passing arm didn't stack up with the big boys coming out of high school -- the classic overachiever who received only one Division I-A scholarship offer -- is now a starting quarterback in the NFL.

And there was no way veteran Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway was going to sit by while his new starting quarterback, a sixth-round draft choice, drove a rented car to pick up his father at the airport.

"Use one of mine," Galloway told Gradkowski.

Truth be told, Gradkowski had arrived even before slipping behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle driven by the stars.

That Gradkowski is one of four rookie starting quarterbacks -- and the only one not selected in the first round of the draft -- is all the vindication he needs.

And now he's coming home to face the Steelers.

"It is going to be crazy," said Gradkowski, who replaced the injured Chris Simms and has 1,328 passing yards, nine touchdowns, six interceptions and a 70.1 passer rating. "It is going to be exciting, especially seeing that black and gold across from you and watching them, as I grew up being a fan. I am looking forward to it just for my family to be able to be there and watch."

Imagine how his proud parents must feel.

"There's going to be a couple of hundred people at this tailgate (party) I'm going to throw," said Gradkowski Sr., who has attended all but one of his son's eight NFL starts. "I figure it's going to be so big, just because of all the people that know us."

Some of those who don't know Gradkowski personally might remember him from his days at Seton-La Salle, where he passed for 30 touchdowns and set a WPIAL record with 2,978 yards as a senior in 2000.

A game between the 4-7 Steelers and 3-8 Buccaneers won't cause shockwaves around the NFL, but it's big news in the Gradkowski household. Bruce's sisters, Deanna and Brittney, and brother, Gino (who will attend West Virginia next year on a football scholarship), will be cheering for their brother, along with cousins Ralph DelSardo (a former high school teammate), Joe DelSardo (a senior wide receiver at Pitt) and Carmen Connolly (a freshman wide receiver at West Virginia).

"It's going to be a long week waiting for Sunday," Debbie Gradkowski said.

Not nearly as long as Gradkowski's wait to be drafted.

He was the 194th player selected, taken one round and 30 picks after the Steelers tabbed Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs, who was Gradkowski's biggest rival in college.

How did he feel when the Steelers passed him and took Jacobs, who was 0-2 against Gradkowski?

"I was a little shocked at the time. I know my family was too," Gradkowski told reporters during a conference call.

Gradkowski Sr. said what his son wouldn't.

"That kind of blew him away," he said. "When it was their pick, they took a rivalry school kid."

The Steelers released Jacobs, who was signed recently to the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.

"I said to remember this is the team that didn't want you, to get him fired up," Debbie Gradkowski said.

Gradkowski, as usual, plans to have the last word.

"It is the same thing that happened through college, after high school going into college," he said. "I don't take that into too much consideration. I am just out to try to prove week in and week out that I can play in this league."

Steel City homecoming
Here's a sampling of eight Western Pennsylvania-bred NFL quarterbacks and how they fared when they visited Pittsburgh for the first time in their NFL careers. Bruce Gradkowski of Seton-La Salle will make his first start in Pittsburgh on Sunday as quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Att. Comp. Yds. TDs Int. Score
Babe Parilli, Green Bay
10/24/53 20 11 74 0 1 Steelers, 31-14
George Blanda, Oakland
09/17/72 11 4 64 1 0 Steelers, 34-28
Johnny Unitas, San Diego
10/07/73 9 2 19 0 2 Steelers, 38-21
Joe Montana, San Francisco
11/01/81 37 22 205 1 2 49ers, 17-14
Dan Marino, Miami
10/07/84 24 16 226 2 1 Dolphins, 31-7
Jim Kelly, Buffalo
11/15/93 19 7 93 0 0 Steelers, 23-0
Gus Frerotte, Washington
09/07/97 35 19 270 0 3 Steelers, 14-13
Marc Bulger, St. Louis
10/26/03 37 22 375 1 0 Rams, 33-21
Note: Two other notable area quarterbacks, Joe Namath and Charlie Batch, never played in Pittsburgh as a Steelers opponent.
Source: Elias Stats Bureau