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Old 11-29-2006, 06:55 AM   #1
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Default Gradkowski to fulfill dream

Gradkowski to fulfill dream of Heinz Field start
Just not for the NFL team he expected to be playing with

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When the Steelers selected quarterback Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green in the fifth round of the NFL draft in April, many Steelers fans were puzzled by the selection. But for dozens of people from the Gradkowski clan who were in the family's residence in Dormont, the news was even harder to comprehend.

Bruce Gradkowski, who played quarterback at Seton-LaSalle High School and the University of Toledo, had yearned to play for the Steelers, the team he grew up rooting for.

The sting of being passed over by the hometown team was one thing. But being passed over for a quarterback he had twice beaten was another, especially after Gradkowski's agent, Ralph Cindrich, informed him that the Steelers might be taking him in the fifth round.

"It was hard to believe, actually," said Gradkowski, who eventually was taken in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "Those two days of the draft were hard. And then that happened on top of everything else."

The long way home

Six years to go five miles: Key moments in Bruce Gradkowski's journey to Heinz Field

Nov. 23, 2000: Named to the Post-Gazette's Fab 22 all-star team for the second consecutive year to cap a senior season at Seton-LaSalle in which he completes 188 of 327 passes (57.5 percent) for 2,978 yards and 30 TDs. The passing yardage is the most in WPIAL history.

Jan. 30, 2001: Makes a verbal commitment to Toledo -- the only Division I-A school that offers him a scholarship despite his impressive high school numbers. A snippet of the reasons: He lacks arm strength ... under-throws deep receivers ... concern about size.

Aug. 29, 2003: Beating the odds, he begins his sophomore season as the Toledo starter and makes his debut in a 28-18 loss to UNLV, completing 14 of 27 for 124 yards and 2 TDs.

Sept. 20, 2003: In only his fourth collegiate start, he leads the Rockets to an upset of No. 9 Pitt, completing 49 of 62 passes for 461 yards. The 49 completions are a school and MAC record. He goes on to throw for 3,210 yards, 29 TDs and finish second in NCAA Div. I-A in completion percentage (71.2).

Nov. 23, 2004: Throws for 338 yards and three TDs in a 49-41 win vs. No. 24 Bowling Green to clinch the MAC West title, rallying Toledo from a 27-7 halftime deficit

Dec. 2, 2004: Suffers a dislocated left shoulder on the fourth play of the game and a broken right hand midway through the second quarter of the MAC title game vs. Miami, but comes back to throw three second-half TDs to lead the Rockets to 35-27 victory and earn game MVP honors. He finishes the season with 3,518 yards, 27 TDs and again is second in I-A in completion percentage (70.2).

Dec. 21, 2005: He finishes the weakest of his three seasons at Toledo (2,469 yards, 29 TDs) on a high note by throwing for 5 TDs in a 45-13 romp over UTEP to earn bowl MVP honors.

April 30, 2006: Taken in the sixth round (No. 196 overall) of the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had been projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. Instead, he is the 11th of 12 quarterbacks drafted.

Sept. 10, 2006: After a preseason in which he goes 45 for 61 for 511 yards and 5 TDs, he enters his first NFL season No. 2 on the Buccaneers' depth chart behind starter Chris Simms, beating out NFL veterans Tim Rattay and Luke McCown for the spot.

Oct. 8, 2006: After Simms' spleen is ruptured the previous week, Gradkowski is given the job and makes his first career start vs. New Orleans. He goes 20 for 31 for 225 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs and a 107.6 passer rating in a 24-21 loss.

Dec. 3, 2006: He comes home to start against the Steelers in Heinz Field -- not five miles from his parents' home in Dormont. The same kid who was too small, who couldn't throw deep, who received only one Division I scholarship offer.

When Tampa Bay plays the Steelers Sunday afternoon, Gradkowski will be the starting quarterback for the Buccaneers and Jacobs won't be anywhere near Heinz Field. He was cut by the Steelers in training camp.

"It's kind of crazy how it worked out," said Ralph DelSardo, Gradkowski's cousin and former teammate at Seton-LaSalle. "For Bruce to be starting this game ... he'll get the chance to show the Steelers that they screwed up."

That's the emotional view the family holds. The rational view, one that has evolved with time, is that being snubbed by the Steelers was the best thing that could have happened to Gradkowski.

After all, had the Steelers selected Gradkowski he likely would be holding a clipboard as the third-string quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger and backup Charlie Batch.

As it is, Gradkowski will be making his ninth start in the NFL on Sunday -- more than any other rookie quarterback this season -- after taking over for Chris Simms, who had surgery to remove his spleen after playing against Carolina in the third week of the season.

Gradkowski is over the Steelers passing on him.

"That's in the past," he said. "It's kind of like college recruiting. They were going to take who they thought was best for them. I can't be mad because I'm in a great situation here in Tampa."

Gradkowski is getting the opportunity not many rookie quarterbacks get in the NFL. He is learning on the job.

"He's a good quarterback," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "He's a young guy going through a lot. You watch him play and you see a lot of good things. Other times, you see some of the inexperience."

With Gradkowski under center, the Buccaneers are 3-5. In little more than two months he has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows the NFL has to offer. He beat Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals, 14-13, in his second start after engineering a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

A week later, he got the Buccaneers in position for a winning 62-yard field goal from Matt Bryant that beat the Eagles, 23-21, on the final play of the game.

Since then, the Buccaneers have dropped four of their past five and are coming off a 38-10 drubbing at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. For the first time in his career, he is hearing criticism from fans and media. Making things more difficult was the news Monday that Buccaneers management gave a two-year contract extension to Simms, a sign that the team views Simms as their long-term quarterback.

"It's tough," Gradkowski said. "This is the first time I've ever been through anything like this. In college, I never lost more than two in a row. It's definitely something that's hard to deal with. But I go back to something that I learned a long time ago: tough times don't last, tough people do."

Through it all, the Gradkowski family is trying to enjoy this special time as much as possible. Bruce Gradkowski Sr. was in attendance for every one of his son's games except for the Dallas defeat. His mother, Debbie, has been to all of the Buccaneers' home games.

Sunday, hundreds of friends and family members will descend on Heinz Field to watch "Brucey" face his hometown team. Debbie Gradkowski is cooking an Italian feast Saturday night. She is hoping Bruce and a few of his teammates show up. If not, the stuffed shells and grilled chicken breast will be served at the tailgate party the family will attend Sunday morning and early afternoon before the 4:15 kickoff. Bruce Sr. has printed special T-shirts for family members to wear.

Gradkowski talks with his parents every day. If he doesn't call home, his mom calls to check in on him. It is through those conversations that he realizes how special a time this is for him and his family. During the daily grind of practice, meetings and other football obligations, Gradkowski has little time to think about his life.

"I'm so focused on what I have to do that I don't see it sometimes," he said. "Then I'll talk to my dad and I'll sit back and think how awesome this is for them. They'll ask me stuff like, 'Did you talk to Drew Brees after the game? Did you talk to Randle El?' Little stuff like that they think is cool. I try to take the time to understand how interested they are."

There have even been a few moments Gradkowski has come to cherish. One of them was talking to Donovan McNabb after the Buccaneers beat the Eagles. The other was last week when he got to spend some time with Drew Bledsoe of the Cowboys.

When Bledsoe told him after the game that he was "going to be a good one" it had some impact. When Gradkowski was growing up, he had a New England No. 11 Bledsoe jersey.

Gradkowski was looking forward to another moment like that Sunday. He was hoping to play against Troy Polamalu and talk with him afterward.

That won't happen, though. Polamalu is out of the game with a knee injury.

"It stinks that he won't be out there," Gradkowski said. "I love watching him play. As a competitor, you want to face the best. ... On the other hand, he's one guy we won't have to worry about."

In a nutshell, that is Gradkowski's season summed up in one paragraph: A rookie in the NFL caught up trying to win games, all the while trying to enjoy the moment.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06333/741978-66.stm
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Old 11-29-2006, 07:48 AM   #2
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

that is pretty cool, i still wish we had omar jacobs but now i know this i wish we would of just got bruce in the 5th round.
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Old 11-29-2006, 08:45 AM   #3
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

I'd like to see Omar get a chance to play this season for the Eagles--I'd like to see just what we gave up.
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Old 11-29-2006, 08:48 AM   #4
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

Gradkowski......drill him.
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Old 11-29-2006, 09:02 AM   #5
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

not quite as bad as passing up t. brady for tee martin but i think gradkowski couldve atleast made the team.
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Old 11-29-2006, 09:03 AM   #6
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

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Originally Posted by tony hipchest View Post
not quite as bad as passing up t. brady for tee martin but i think gradkowski couldve atleast made the team.



or passing on Urlacher and taking Plaxxy.
or passing on J.Kearse and taking T.Edwards.



think I'll puke.
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Old 11-29-2006, 05:01 PM   #7
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

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or passing on Urlacher and taking Plaxxy.
or passing on J.Kearse and taking T.Edwards.



think I'll puke.
agree with u
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Old 11-29-2006, 05:23 PM   #8
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

I wish the kid all the luck and success in the world (except for this upcoming Sunday).
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Old 11-29-2006, 07:32 PM   #9
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Default Re: Gradkowski to fulfill dream

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Originally Posted by 19ward86 View Post
that is pretty cool, i still wish we had omar jacobs but now i know this i wish we would of just got bruce in the 5th round.
Unfortunately Bruce would be in the same place as Jacobs. Probably as a backup with the Eagles. I'm convinced that the Steelers had no intention of keeping a third quarterback at the start of the season. I think they took Omar because he was so good in college and it kept another team from getting him and working with him in the preseason. It sounds odd, but it happens all the time in the middle rounds of the draft.
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Old 11-29-2006, 07:40 PM   #10
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I wish the kid all the luck and success in the world (except for this upcoming Sunday).

Same here. Still want to see our D sack him a few times, and int him also.
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