Gorman: Being a veteran not enough for Gradkowski

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009

Bruce Gradkowski admits it was strange, playing against the Steelers last December at Heinz Field while wearing a Cleveland Browns uniform. Most of his friends from Green Tree and Dormont couldn't even bring themselves to wear Browns jerseys in his honor to that game.

Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere.

While Gradkowski would prefer to erase that performance from his memory — he was 5 of 16 for 18 yards with two interceptions in the 31-0 loss — the four games the Seton-La Salle graduate spent with the Browns were significant to his career and, more importantly, his retirement.

Under the NFL's Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan, a player earns credit for a full season by being on the active roster in three games and can qualify for pension after four seasons in the league. After getting cut three times, Gradkowski reached that status this fall and will be eligible to receive $22,500 a year starting at age 55.

It's no wonder Gradkowski, who will start at quarterback for the Oakland Raiders when they play the Steelers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field, isn't satisfied with just being in the league. He's looking to last.

"It's always nice, knowing that there is going to be life after football," said Gradkowski, earning a salary of $535,000 this season. "Football is not going to be my whole life. You can give yourself a nice living. I don't feel like that's going to be good enough. I don't even know what I'll be getting. That's your goal — to get to four years — but now it's not really a big deal.

"I want bigger things than that."

For starters, a victory over the Steelers would be nice. The novelty of returning to his hometown has worn off for Gradkowski after playing here as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006 and the Browns in the '08 season finale. Both were lopsided losses, and both teams finished 4-12, a record the Raiders (3-8) could very well duplicate.

"Of course I want to come home and beat the Steelers, but that's our goal every week — to win," Gradkowski said. "I've gotten past the point that I want to play the Steelers. It's nice that my family is here to see me. That's all good and grand. But we need to play football."

Despite being 26 years old, the former sixth-round draft pick from Toledo already is being described as a journeyman after being cut by the Bucs, Browns and St. Louis Rams and playing for three teams in four seasons.

"When I was starting in Tampa Bay, I was like: 'I'm going to be here my whole career.' Then you get a taste of what the NFL can be about, moving around and switching from team to team," Gradkowski said. "You've got to have perseverance and hope that you'll get your opportunity."

Gradkowski's chance came three weeks ago, after the Raiders benched former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. Gradkowski responded by throwing a game-tying touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with 33 seconds left in leading Oakland to a 20-17 victory over Cincinnati in his first start. Last week, he played in a 24-7 loss at Dallas on Thanksgiving.

"When we were kids, we always had a Turkey Bowl," Gradkowski said. "I remember saying in the huddle: 'Run a post at the red Dodge and a hook at the telephone pole.'Football is football.

"It makes me laugh and remember this is why we play this game. Shoot, in this business, you never know. I've been fortunate to have four years in the NFL. I've got a lot of years to come. I take it year by year, week by week. That's all I can control."

Anything beyond that would be all good and grand, but that's a concern for another day. Football is football, and Bruce Gradkowski needs to play.

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