The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
"And so it ends, not with a bang, but without a kicker."
Whenever I think back to the infamous Bill Gramatica-blows-out-his-knee game, that's the line I remember — the lead to the column of my co-worker at the time, Scott Bordow. The play itself — which came after Gramatica booted a 42-yard field goal and then celebrated in the first quarter in New York against the Giants — has become a punchline. It's funny though, because I remember that game for so many reasons, and Gramatica was just one.
It was 2001, after all, and a Saturday game. The night before, just about three months after the 9/11 attacks, four of us — myself and Scott, and the Republic's Pedro Gomez and Kent Somers — went to Ground Zero after a late dinner. It was jacket weather but remarkably warm for December, and I just remember the eerie glow of the artificial lights as workers (still going around the clock) cleared debris while a small part of one of the towers remained sticking in the air. Some windows on the surrounding buildings that stayed erect were still broken.
Then came the game the next day, when the 5-7 Cards were still breathing for a playoff spot and dominated the game — only to find themselves unable to score enough to win. That wasn't helped by the early injury to Gramatica.
He wasn't out for the game. That's a false memory many have. He even somehow booted a 23-yard field goal after the injury. But he tried to kick off (pictured) and couldn't, leading to another memory — Pat Tillman as emergency kickoff man (I tried to find video. Promise. Couldn't.) and Tillman admitted he was "stoked" to get a chance to kick. (He wasn't very good at it though. I'll take Tim Hightower every time.)
The Cards got a miracle fourth-and-forever touchdown pass from Jake Plummer to tight end Tywan Mitchell to take the lead (After Mitchell made his improbable catch, TV reporter Lesley Visser, who was to do postgame, leaned over the very high row above us writers in the press box and yelled, "Who was that?" She had no idea who Mitchell was. Few did). But the Giants drove down and scored with 25 seconds left for a heartbreaking loss.
Afterward, the specter of the Gramatica injury hovered over everything.
Bill was not happy with the way the whole thing was covered. He and brother Martin had always taken grief about the way they jumped for joy over every single kick, so it was natural they got jabbed for it when it turned into an injury. A couple days later, Gramatica came to talk to a couple of beat writers, but I always sensed he was pretty ticked at the media.
He seemed to get past it the following training camp, when he was remarkably back to kick. He had booted game-winners against Oakland and San Diego the year before prior to the injury, and the next year, he did the same against Dallas and Carolina when the Cards got out to a 3-2 start. Everybody got injured on the Cards that season, however, including Gramatica (his back this time) and his time in Arizona faded quickly — early in the 2003 season, he was gone. It ended, not with a bang, but without a kicker (who is most famously known for a celebration gone wrong).