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).
Tags: Bill Gramatica, Giants, Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman, Revisionist history, Tywan Mitchell
Posted in Blog | 27 Comments »
The plane ride home is so much different after a win. Why wouldn’t it be, after a big win like the Cards had Sunday? Get into the Way-Back machine for a moment, and try to remember Jake Plummer’s middle screen to tight end Freddie Jones for a touchdown, and Bill Gramatica’s late field goal. That 16-13 win on Oct. 6, 2002 was the last time the Cardinals won a game with a 10 a.m. Arizona time start. Since then they had played nine eight such games, all of them losses:
- 9/7/03 @Detroit 42-24
- 9/26/04 @Atlanta 6-3
- 9/11/05 @NY Giants 42-19 (Oops. Realized in the shower Monday morning this game was a late start)
- 10/1/06 @Atlanta 32-10
- 9/23/07 @Baltimore 26-23
- 10/21/07 @Washington 21-19
- 9/21/08 @Washington 24-17
- 9/28/08 @NY Jets 56-35
- 10/26/08 @Carolina 27-23
So now you can understand the significance of Sunday (and FYI, the Cards don’t have another 10 a.m. game this season).
On to other thoughts:
— Coach Ken Whisenhunt on Beanie Wells’ fumbles: “Trust me, he may be carrying the ball around all day now.” So why wasn’t it surprising to see Wells at the end of the game when the defense was on the field, helmet on his head and ball tucked firmly in the crook of his arm – despite sitting on the bench?
— The punt returns were (very very) ugly. But the whole reason Antrel Rolle is back there was on display during that field-goal return of 83 yards. Six touchdowns on 11 “quick change” plays is insane. His teammates know what’s what. This is Darnell Dockett: “When he gets the ball in his hands, there’s an 80 percent chance he’s gonna score. When he took off I was like, ‘Don’t nobody block in the back, just let him do his thing.’ We learned the lesson when we played Seattle a couple years back, when he gets the ball, everybody just move out of the way. He’ll create his own plays and we don’t want nothing called back.”
I’m not sure if Dockett meant the infamous Cincinnati game where Rolle lost a third touchdown return in the game, but he made his point.
— It was weird hearing this from Whisenhunt: “It is funny, people say practice isn’t important, but it is for us.” I don’t know if anyone doesn’t think practice is important for this team, because the players and coaches often talk about how it matters. I get fans and cohorts asking me all the time how they look at practice, when a) one of the big rules about being able to watch is that you can’t talk about it and b) I can’t really tell who’s having a good practice or not, not when I don’t know exactly what’s being worked on. I think Whiz’s message has to be more for the players, to remind them what practice means.
— Larry Fitzgerald tried to pretend he wasn’t getting upset at not getting many passes, including one point after he looked to be open down the field but didn’t get the ball. “I was just tired,” Fitz said, trying to suppress a smile. “It was humid out there today I was just trying to save my energy so that’s why I walked off so slowly. That’s all that was.” Nevertheless, Fitz got a TD catch in his eighth straight game, including that playoff run.
— Think NBC, which has Colts at Cardinals next Sunday night, is breathing a sigh of relief that the Cards’ offense got out of its funk, and that they aren’t 0-2? Me too.
— The defensive front continues to impress. Calais Campbell is going to be a player (Nice field-goal block, by the way). Clark Haggans had a good game. And Bertrand Berry has two sacks in two games. That’ll be important against a guy like Peyton Manning.
Tags: Antrel Rolle, Beanie Wells, Bertrand Berry, Bill Gramatica, Calais Campbell, Clark Haggans, Colts, Darnell Dockett, East coast, Freddie Jones, Jaguars, Jake Plummer, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Peyton Manning
Posted in Blog | 11 Comments »