Not long ago new Patriots kicker Martin Gramatica was well on his way to building an impressive resume that might have even been worthy of attempting to replace a legend like Adam Vinatieri in New England. A native of Argentina and third-round pick out of Kansas State by the Buccaneers in 1999, the excitable kicker used a strong leg to earn Pro Bowl honors in just his second NFL season and helped Tampa Bay to Super Bowl XXXVII triumph.
But soon after reaching the top of the football mountain with his Tampa teammates, Gramatica's personal game went south. Now, after a series of disappointing seasons that included poor play (10 missed kicks in his final season as a Buc in 2003), injury and a year out of the NFL in 2005, Gramatica has the unenviable job of trying to replace Adam Vinatieri.
It may seem like a no-win situation, but Gramatica isn't approaching it that way. Make no doubt, the man once known as Automatica wants to be considered automatic again, he just doesn't want to try and replace Automatic Adam. In fact, he has fond memories of early career encounters with the man who earned the name Mr. Clutch and helped bring Super Bowl glory to New England.
"We all know he is the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history," Gramatica said via conference call from his home in Tampa. "I don't see it as a no-win because Adam has moved on. I'm a huge fan of Adam as a person and as a kicker. I met him my rookie year coming into the league. There were a few veterans that were super nice to me and he was one of them. I'm always going to be thankful for that and his advice when I was rookie. I have a lot of respect for Adam. But we all know that he's moved on. That's how the NFL is. Sometimes you just can't keep guys that you want. I'm sure New England didn't want to let him go because he's a top-of-the-line kicker but sometimes you just have to do certain things. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to kick in the NFL again. I'm just very excited for the chance. I don't see it as a no-win situation because if I go in there and do my job everything should work out."
A big part of the downward spiral of production Gramatica experienced in recent years had to do with an abdominal injury and a premature return from surgery. Now fully healthy, a state he says he was in last season despite being unemployed, the veteran wants to leave the injuries in the past and find a fresh start.
"I don't really want to comment on that because that was in the past," Gramatica said when asked about the injury and his production falloff after 2002. "I feel 100 percent now. I'm very confident right now. I just feel great. I'm just looking forward to a new beginning and I know I'll get that in New England. I met a few people there and everyone was super nice. I just can't wait to get there. I wish I could go there now. I had a baby a week ago so it's kind of crazy here trying to get everything in order for me to move up there. If not for that, I'd be there right now. I'm just very excited for the opportunity."
Gramatica actually had to postpone his workout with New England, other than the Colts the only team to show interest in the former Pro Bowler this offseason. His first son, Nicolas, was born the day the Patriots called to try and set up a visit. The veteran feels fortunate the Patriots rescheduled.
"I had a baby a week ago and that's when New England called. We were actually in the delivery room when I got the call from my agent," Gramatica said. "He had to call them back and let them know that we were a little busy and they were nice enough to push the workout back a week. Most teams won't do that. They'll just scratch your name off and go to the next guy. New England was really nice enough to do that."
But just because the Patriots, sans kicker after Vinatieri signed with the Colts, waited for Gramatica doesn't mean he expects to have the kicking job just handed to him. The team could very well look to the draft for some training camp competition for the newly signed veteran. New England reportedly worked out Ohio State prospect Josh Huston on Monday and is scheduled to visit with Memphis' Stephen Gostkowski later in the week.
"I believe there will be somebody else in camp to compete against," Gramatica said. "It happens with most teams. Unless you have a proven guy –I'm sure the last few years Adam didn't have to compete with anybody— but most jobs you have to compete for."
If he wins the job in the heat of camp, Gramatica will eventually have to kick in the unpredictable and less than ideal conditions late season action in the Northeast. Known as a warm weather kicker thanks to his heritage and time in Tampa, Gramatica isn't too worried about adjusting his game to a new climate.
"I went to college at Kansas State and it was pretty chilly," he said in his own defense. "And we played at Iowa and Iowa State. That was six or seven years ago. But, also, when I played with Tampa, we played in a conference with Green Bay and Chicago. It's not as easy as kicking in the summer, but it gets cold for everybody. You have to travel even for the Florida teams, you have to travel and play in the cold. I just see it as a normal situation and I feel comfortable that I'll be able to do the job."
For his career Gramatica has connected on 137-of-179 field goal attempts for a 76.5 percent accuracy rate in 93 games played. He's connected on 15-of-24 attempts from 50 yards or greater with a long of 55 yards. He also holds the NCAA record with a 65-yard field goal during his senior year at Kansas State.
But those are just the numbers now, a resume that will be unfairly compared to Vinatieri's over the next few months and maybe even years. All that matters now is making kicks. Gramatica knows he can't say anything to defend himself to the criticisms he's sure to hear at some point. All he can do is kick.
"Whether you do good or bad you're going to hear good or bad stuff. It's my job," Gramatica said. "The biggest thing is I try to do my job the best that I can and do whatever I can to help the team win."
That's something his predecessor did as well as anyone and on some of the biggest of stages. Let the comparisons, as unfair as they may be, begin.