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Former Tampa Bay Bucs placekicker Martin Gramatica gets his kicks out of helping the environment

He is best known as the Super Bowl XXXVII winning kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a man of average stature but with a big leg and even bigger theatrics after kicks. Martin Gramatica remains a local fan favorite for his time with the Bucs, from 1999 to 2004. ¶ After a decade in the NFL, the Argentinean-born placekicker who lives in Carrollwood is now finding success in his second career: designing and engineering environmentally friendly buildings and specially insulated building panels. Recently, the company he runs with his brothers Bill and Santiago — both past pro kickers, as well — has donated services to Habitat for Humanity, Francis House HIV and AIDS advocacy center, and Operation Finally Home, which builds houses for wounded veterans. ¶ The Gramaticas' company, Gramatica SIPS International, is based in Sarasota but plans to relocate its plant and headquarters to Tampa. The Tampa Bay Times' Justin George caught up with Martin Gramatica, 36, and teed up some questions for him to boot.

How did you come up with SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel Systems)?

I tell people it's a big mistake. We were going to be silent investors in a company that made special building panels but it was involved in a giant Ponzi scheme back in the day. So we just started from scratch, got some expertise in the business and began three years ago. Now we run it 100 percent ourselves. We do basically everything. The good thing is all three brothers are in different roles. Santiago is hands-on. He works at the plant in the manufacturing facility. Bill's our sales guy; he's phenomenal at selling. I do whatever's needed. I meet with a lot of engineers and architects about our product.

Have you always been environmentally conscious? What's the weirdest thing you've recycled?

We do the typical paper-plastic recycling at home. Or at least we try to. I can't say we're great at it. But I view what we do as a company as helping people build energy-efficient homes. Most people use the word "green" and it's extremely overused. I think most people understand the energy and money savings to their bills. But I did put cooking oil in my diesel truck once and it worked after a friend in Ocala cleaned it and dared me to. The truck still works.

When you were a Buccaneer, did you have any superstitions?

Oh, man, as a kicker you have a ton. The cleats I wore had to be immaculate. I polished them and cleaned them all the time. I traveled with them and never let the equipment truck carry them. I always had them with me. I also wore a T-shirt with a picture of all my kids — Nico, now 6, Gaston, 4, and Emme, 6 months. That was my undershirt.

What's your favorite restaurant and dish in Tampa?

There's two places we go to a lot: Ledo Pizza in Carrollwood, where we order the pepperoni and green olive pizza. My son also loves Chipotle so we have to go there every day after school. He eats a whole bowl with rice and everything.

How did your family go from playing soccer to all becoming kickers?

Bill was the one who played first. He tried out for the high school team. He told me to try it. I tried it out my senior year. In our city, LaBelle (east of Fort Myers), they had never seen anyone kick the ball like that. Looking back, I was decent; I didn't think I was very good. But for LaBelle High School, they had never had a real kicker before. I wanted to go play professional soccer after high school and was thinking about going to Mexico but I got a college scholarship to kick and that's not something you can pass up. In hindsight, I wouldn't trade it all for anything.

You were very animated as a player. Does this new role give you the same "kick," so to speak?

I don't jump around and celebrate but I should. Building homes for veterans is more gratifying than any kick. The day we told Army Spc. Charlie Lemon he was getting a free house in Tampa, it was just amazing, the emotions I felt. This is a young kid who lost his legs in Afghanistan. And he's just a cool guy, someone you'd want to hang out with.

You work with your brothers, mixing business and family. Any tips on how you've made that work?

It's real easy: They know I'm the oldest, I'm the boss. (Laughs.) No, I think it's great. Because we're in family we can have arguments, even fights that our wives have to split up. Hey, if you can't trust your family, who can you trust?

Former Tampa Bay Bucs placekicker Martin Gramatica gets his kicks out of helping the environment 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:30am]
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