The official announcement of the agreement between Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after months of speculation about the future of the most successful player in NFL’s history put the city and the team back in the headlines. Brady, who signed with the team as a free-agent after playing 20 seasons with the Patriots, caused a revolution in Tampa, an excitement only comparable with the Buccaneers' victory in the Super Bowl XXXVII, in 2003.
Martín Gramática, who helped the Bucs with 12 points in the 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders in San Diego, California, to clinch the first and only Super Bowl trophy for the team, talked with Bolavip in an exclusive interview about his two passions: American football and soccer. He also analyzed the present of his beloved Buccaneers after Brady’s arrival and his experiences with the quarterback during his stint in the New England Patriots.
Gramática is not only one of the few South Americans to have played in the NFL, but also the only one to have won a Super Bowl. He answered the video call from his studio and recalled his transition from soccer -his true passion- to the most popular sport in the United States, for which he is eternally grateful.
- You have mentioned many times that you started to play American football in high school because they needed a kicker. When did you realize that you could become a professional player?
- “After our first practice, our coach said: ‘This kid is outstanding, he will play in College and become professional’. And after that I got excited, because I didn’t know anything about the sport by the time. Looking back, we weren’t that good, but the kickers they already had were very bad. I had to work hard and learn day by day. It was difficult for me to get used to the helmet and all the equipment. And I didn’t know the rules either; I just kicked the ball and then sit on the bench again. I never thought I could go pro. Obviously, that was the goal. I loved football and I wanted to be a football player. When this possibility opened up for me, I thought: ‘I’m going to give it all to become professional’”.
- When did you realize that you could play in the NFL?
- “The first two years weren’t so good; I didn’t have many chances to kick. During the third year I suffered a cruciate ligament injury and I thought ‘it’s over’. But it was a like a blessing for me after all; I learned to train in a different way and strengthen my body. I used to play soccer before American football, so I trained to be faster and kick the ball, I didn’t do much physical training. The last two years were my best years and that’s when the NFL doors opened up for me”.
- It’s not common to see a kicker being picked in the third round of the Draft. How was that experience for you?
- “The Draft is a life-changing call, because it guarantees you’ll be on the team. We were three kickers competing to see who would come out first and in my last year I kicked the 65-yard field goal (the longest field goal in college and professional football history kicked without a tee), that helped me to be ahead of the other two. And being picked by Tampa Bay Buccaneers was like coming home, as I was raised in Florida. For me, it was a double satisfaction”.
Pure history: Super Bowl victory with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- What was the key to reach the Super Bowl in the 2002 season?
- “Tony Dungy built the team; it was a spectacular group of people, and for me that made the difference. Because they weren’t only league stars, but also good guys. We did well with Dungy, but we failed to win in playoffs, so (Jon) Gruden came and the change was amazing. The team spent 8 million dollars just to hire a coach. He took charge of a defensive team and added a little bit more offense. When he gives a pre-game team talk, he motivates you so much you want to get out there. And that’s what he did, that energy boost helped us to win the Super Bowl”.
- How important was Gruden in the Super Bowl, considering he faced his former team?
- “Our defense knew what they (Raiders) were planning to do before they do it. That was great for us, because it made the job much easier for our defense. Oakland hadn’t changed the offense at all. And they didn’t have to; how would they know they were going to face their former coach in the Super Bowl? Bad luck for them that they faced us. They had the best offensive of the league, and our defense knowing what was coming… they couldn’t do anything. That helped us a lot”.
- How important was to beat Philadelphia in the Conference Final after losing two straight times against them in the playoffs?
- “I always say: ‘the Super Bowl for us was Philadelphia’, because at that time, we had to visit Philadelphia, which had defeated us in the last two years. The cold too, we had never won a game below 40°F. After winning that game, we were so motivated that it didn’t matter who was our next opponent, we were going to win. The motivation at that game was incredible; that was the key. For me, it was toughest game of the season”.
- Why do you think the team could not keep the same level after winning the Super Bowl?
- “I think the main problem could have been Gruden, who sidelined some referents from the squad built by Tony Dungy. Because many people here (in Tampa) talked about how Gruden had won the Super Bowl with Dungy’s team. I think he wanted to build his own squad, he brought three or four players from Oakland, who were close to retirement. In fact, one of them suffered an injury before the start of the season and couldn’t play a single game. Another one, Tim Brown, who’s a Hall of Famer, didn’t have enough strength in his legs when he joined the team. Also, we weren’t the united group of people anymore, the group that had been working together for years. That was the biggest mistake, in my opinion, bring his players from Oakland to keep winning”.
The experience in New England: his relationship with Brady and the competition with Gostkowski
- You have always said that New England was where you felt most at home after Tampa. Hoy did Tom Brady and the Patriots welcome you?
- “Unfortunately, I could never play at my best level again due to some adductor injuries after leaving Tampa. I was living in therapy, with a special training. I could never recover the rhythm I wanted because of that. When I joined New England, I felt good. It also reminded me the group we had at Tampa, a united and humble group of people. Tom Brady, a great guy, humble. The first day I saw him in the gym, he came to say hello and said to me: ‘It’s great to have you here, I’m really happy you’re in the team’. And at that time he had already won a Super Bowl, he was already a superstar. I learned a lot of things there. You realize why they win, because we lost a preseason game and on Monday it was like we had lost the Super Bowl. Imagine what it must be to lose during the regular season or in the playoffs”.
- How was the competition with Stephen Gostkowski, who had been recently picked in the Draft?
- “It was never a competition with Gostkowski because I suffered an injury after the first game of the preseason. I’ve been told that I was going to kick the field goals and he was going to make the punts, he had a very strong leg. It would have been great for me, because I was coming from injuries and the kickoff is when you need your leg to be strong enough. And then I picked up an adductor injury after the first game of the preseason, and I lost my opportunity”.
- Did you see potential in Gostkowski to have the career he made?
- “No, nothing. It was a big surprise because he had a 60% of effectiveness, so it wasn’t a high percentage, but he had a very strong leg. He was also a bit inconsistent. And from one day to the next one, he got better, and the coach helped him too. One of the things he changed, he started wearing soccer boots. I think I deserve some credit for that, because I think I helped him to change the boots; I shouldn’t have told him my secret (he laughs). He made an outstanding career. Because no matter how much you change your boots, you have to score, and he did it when it counted, he won a lot of games”.
Tom Bady and his arrival to Tampa
- Why do you think Tom Brady left New England and choose Tampa?
- “I think 20 years in New England wore him out, with a coach and an organization that ask so much from you, I think he needed fresh air. He needed to get out of there, refresh his mind and start over. Besides, when you’ve won so much, it’s like no longer appreciated. If he had signed with New England, he would have been in the papers for one day; but he signed for Tampa and it’s world news, everyone is still talking about it. Now Tampa has the potential to win the Super Bowl, and we have five games in prime time. We only had four after winning the Super Bowl. That’s the Tom Brady effect”.
“What Tom Brady saw was, what he said in some interviews, is that we have some great players in offense: Mike Evans and Chris Goodwin are two of the best receivers. Now (Rob) Gronkowski joined us too, but we already had OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, who play in his position, and an offensive coach. That’s what he liked about the team, and the defense is improving too. He says he joined the team because he knows we can win things. I think it’s a competition with Bill Belichick, about who can win a Super Bowl without the other one”.
“Luckily for us, he chose Tampa. Here it was a revolution since Tom Brady came. The other day someone was talking about when there was more expectation, after winning the Super Bowl or now that Brady came. I think people in Tampa are more excited now that Tom Brady’s here than after winning the Super Bowl. It’s a shame what happened with the coronavirus, because most, if not all, the tickets were sold after it was announced that he was coming. Imagine Tom Brady and Gronkowski coming out of the tunnel, it’s a show, with fireworks, smoke, the team’s mascot and all the pregame show. Just imagine, you have Tom Brady and you can’t do that. And there are no signs that fans will be allowed to attend the game”.
- It wasn’t just Brady who joined Tampa. What do you think about Rob Gronkowski’s arrival?
- “First of all, I never thought that he would return from retirement, because he loves life and he’s happy, enjoying the professional wrestling and all the things he has been doing. I thought he wouldn’t be back to training every day, watching videos, prepare the games. Now the team has not only another leader in the tight end position, but also another offensive leader; a winning guy. Even Tom Brady is going to feel more comfortable having a teammate he already knows”.
Soccer, an ever-present passion
- What do you think MLS needs to improve in order to take the leap and surpass the Liga MX?
- “I spoke with Marcelo Balboa (American retired soccer player) last week and he told me that until an MLS team wins the Concachampions, the Liga MX is going to stay ahead. But they compete, because an MLS team always makes it to the final. They lose, but they beat a Mexican team in the semifinals some times. I think the change in MLS began when (David) Beckham came, the marketing he brought with his arrival opened the door to the world a little bit. Now teams bring young players, when before players just came to retire. Players have good salaries now, too. For me, to have let Gerardo Martino go was the biggest mistake in the history of American soccer. They should have given him the US national team”.
- You are currently coaching your children at a soccer academy in Tampa. Would you like to continue your coaching career or is it more like a hobby for you?
- “I love it, but I don’t have time to get the licenses with the radio program, the kids. Training in a youth academy is nice because the kids still listen to you. I used what I learned in American football and use it in soccer training. It’s very organized, very disciplined, you don’t waste much time. And then, I teach the kids to compete. Sometimes, you lose 0-3 and the parents are happy because their kid played well. And I say: if you lose 0-3, you can never be happy. I try to teach that to the kids”.
If you want to read the original interview with Martín Gramática in Spanish, click here.