It's all put on foot of Gramatica
Oh, look. Isn't the ball pretty there, spinning end over end? Isn't it lovely against the clouds of the afternoon sky? Isn't it . . . OH, MY GOODNESS! IT WENT THROUGH! IT'S GOOD! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? HAS ANYTHING EVER BEEN THIS SPECTACULAR?

The little man with the big heart is running now. His arms are spread, like an airplane's wings. He is circling left, spinning out of control, looking for someone to embrace. Martin Gramatica is a pingpong ball in a hurricane, bounding and bouncing, posing and posturing, grinning and grinding. He has just kicked a field goal, and the Bucs have just won a game, and Raymond James Stadium has turned into Mardi Gras, Gramatica has turned into part Roberto Benigni, part Brandi Chastain.

HOW ABOUT THIS? ISN'T LIFE BEAUTIFUL? AREN'T FIELD GOALS WONDERFUL? AREN'T FIELD-GOAL KICKERS THAT GIVE A TEAM LIFE WONDERFUL? He is leaping, and his fist is pumping, and the world is a rainbow. He wants to thank his blockers. He wants to thank his holder. If Paul Tagliabue would just stop the game, he would run up to your seat and he would thank you, too. THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS TERRIFIC! YOU LIKE ME! YOU REALLY LIKE ME!!

He scoots across the field, his smile wider than his face, his guts bigger than his body. He looks at the sky. He picks up his coach. He falls to his knees. He pumps his fist. And in front of him, 52 other members of the Tampa Bay Bucs join the one-man conga line. Ten games, and what do you know? The Bucs are Gramatically correct.

If Martin Gramatica is not the man who invented joy, he is at least the man who has kept it alive for the Bucs. From half a football field away, so far from the winning points that the goal posts look like a tuning fork in the distance, he kicked away despair. It is a lot to ask. A rookie, from 53 yards away, with victory or defeat, with a winning season or mediocrity riding on the outcome. Gramatica had never been in this situation. Not in high school. Not in college. He had kicked long field goals, and he had kicked multiple field goals. But he had never swung his leg at the difference between hope and despair, between triumph and tears.

He did, and the ball sailed high and straight and perfect, the way it always did when he kicked at the PVC goal posts his father fashioned in the family back yard in LaBelle. Then Gramatica was off, darting and dancing, daring his teammates not to grin along with him. "It was the greatest feeling ever," Gramatica said, which summed things up nicely. This is why the Bucs drafted him in the third round, an unusually high pick for a kicker.

For a minute such as this one, when his leg could forgive an afternoon of stumbling about. For a kick that could put the Bucs in the thick of the stretch drive. The truth of it is that Gramatica never met a successful field goal that he couldn't turn into happy hour. Even when he kicks an extra point in a 27-7 game, he becomes a human champagne bubble. But even Gramatica knew this was different than his three previous field goals of the day. The difference between great field-goal kickers and good ones is when the game is on the line.

Yes, even from 53 yards. "I just feel like when it clears the line of scrimmage, it's going to be good," Tony Dungy said. More and more, the rest of the Bucs feel the same way. Time was, they would snicker behind their hands at Gramatica's antics. Not anymore. Celebrations mean there is something to celebrate, don't they? "He's the best weapon we have on offense," Warren Sapp said. "When he lines up, I don't have any questions. The kid has ice water in his veins. He's something special."

That, of course, explains why Gramatica was at the game, instead of still hanging upside down from the goal posts at the team's practice facility. On Saturday, it had been Gramatica's turn to bring the team breakfast. According to Sapp's palate, the effort was wide left. Usually, the penalty for such outrage is to cover the offending party with athletic tape. Sapp considered, momentarily, taping his kicker upside down to the goal posts. Then he reconsidered. "I told the rest of the guys, 'You don't tape up your only guaranteed points,' " he said.

Still, Gramatica wasn't sure. He left practice without showering, rather than hang around till Sapp changed his mind. A day later, it was tickertape the Bucs were considering when it came to their kicker. If Gramatica had missed, the Bucs would be 5-5, wallowing, trying to figure out where their hope had gone. But there is a world of difference between 5-5 and 6- 4. "He saved our tails," guard Jorge Diaz said. "I don't mind admitting it. You tend to think of playmakers as running backs and receivers and quarterbacks, but this guy is a playmaker."

On a day like this, who is to argue? The first game Gramatica ever played at Raymond James, the security guard wouldn't let him in because he thought at 5-8, 170, Gramatica was too small to be a player. That won't happen again. A few more kicks like this, and the kid is going to own the joint.

Gary Shelton , The St.Petersburg Times 1999