Gramatica ready to replace legend


BOSTON (AP) – Some veteran NFL kickers barely acknowledged Martin Gramatica during his rookie season.

One made a particular impression.

When the New England Patriots visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a preseason game in 1999, Adam Vinatieri and Gramatica had a long and productive chat. Now, Gramatica is trying to replace Vinatieri with the Patriots after Vinatieri signed a free-agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

“He advised me to stay humble and do your job,” Gramatica said in a conference call on Monday. “If you do what the team asks you to do you’re going to have a job for a long time. And not only that, we just talked for a long time. That just shows you the kind of person he is because I came across a few veterans who wouldn’t even say hello.”

Gramatica, 30, signed with the Patriots earlier this month after spending the 2005 season out of football entirely. He was drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round in 1999 out of Kansas State and spent 51/2 seasons with the team, earning a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 and helping the team win the Super Bowl in 2003.

But he was waived after 11 games of the 2004 season after making just 11-of-19 field goal attempts.

Gramatica said he is fully recovered from the abdominal injury that contributed to the drop in production. His accuracy and range is back, he said.

“I don’t really want to comment on that because that was in the past. I feel 100 percent now. I’m very confident right now. I just feel great.”

He is not in the least bit intimidated in trying to replace Vinatieri, whose late kicks helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls, and has no fear of kicking in the often unforgiving weather conditions at Gillette Stadium.

“I went to college at Kansas State and it was pretty chilly, and we played at Iowa and Iowa State,” said Gramatica, who was informed by his agent that the Patriots were interested while in the delivery room of a Florida hospital as his wife gave birth to their first child, a son.

He pointed out that even while playing in Tampa Bay he had to kick in cold-weather situations when the team visited Green Bay and Chicago.

“I just see it has a normal situation and I feel comfortable that I’ll be able to do the job,” he said.

He said he expects the Patriots to bring in another kicker to create some competition for the job.

AP-ES-04-10-06 2225EDT