Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive tackle Paul Gruber introduced as newest inductee into Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Ring of Honor

TAMPA — There was a game Nov. 6, 1994, when something seemingly came over Paul Gruber. Tempers flared. He lost control and found himself in a fierce fight with Bears defensive lineman Alonzo Spellman, and both were ejected.

It seemed so out of character for Gruber, the consummate Wisconsin nice guy.

"Maybe being nice all the time kind of leaves it bottled up for Sunday," Gruber said, laughing. "I just don't know what happened. Things kind of got out of hand."

The only reason the fight remains memorable is it was so unexpected. At just about every other moment, Gruber — announced Wednesday as the fourth member of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor — was perfectly predictable.

When asked to block the likes of Minnesota's Chris Doleman, one of the day's elite pass rushers, Gruber did it reliably — usually without the aid of a tight end.

When asked by then-rookie coach Tony Dungy to help lead a wayward team in 1996, Gruber willingly accepted and taught his younger teammates to be pros.

It's what the Bucs wanted and needed from their left tackle, and he did it consistently for 12 seasons.

"He was certainly worthy of the fourth overall pick in the 1988 NFL draft," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said.

"He went on to become everything you'd want in a left tackle: dependable, dependable, dependable."

Gruber joins inaugural member Lee Roy Selmon, John McKay and Jimmie Giles in the Ring of Honor. Glazer emphasized that selections are not being made chronologically.

"We are intent on honoring all the early Bucs greats down the road," he said.

Gruber will be inducted during halftime of the Oct. 14 game against the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium. That game will not, however, be the Bucs' throwback game. The induction will include a tribute to the 1997 team, the first to wear today's red and pewter uniforms and first to make the postseason since 1982. (The throwback game, during which the Bucs will wear orange uniforms, will be Oct. 21.)

Gruber, who was born in Madison, Wis., and played at the University of Wisconsin, started 183 consecutive games. At one time, he played 4,850 consecutive snaps. But Gruber didn't spend much time dwelling on his individual accomplishments.

He instead focused on moments such as that 1997 postseason, when the Bucs beat the Lions in a wild-card game, the last contest at Tampa Stadium. The revelry that followed is still fresh in Gruber's mind.

"The thing I remember most was the atmosphere after we won," said Gruber, now living in Edwards, Colo. "It was just crazy. There were fireworks. There were players running around the field with Bucs flags. It really was just the start of something, I think."

Gruber, more than most of his teammates, could appreciate the Bucs' success. For his first nine seasons, he toiled on teams that averaged 5.3 wins.

In 1993, after Gruber's first contract expired, he'd had enough.

"I felt I couldn't reach my full potential here," he said Wednesday.

But after a trade to the Raiders fell apart, Gruber and the Bucs patched things up, and he signed a contract extension. He never regretted the decision.

"I'm happy," he said. "Things have a way of working out."

Had he left, Gruber wouldn't have forged his many valuable relationships.

Wednesday's news conference was attended by several of the people whom he grew to love during his time in Tampa, including Dungy, former linebacker Derrick Brooks, former fullback Mike Alstott and Giles, last year's inductee.

Dungy recalled fondly the example Gruber set for others.

"For a coach to be able to say, 'Just look over at his locker and do what he does and you're going to be fine,' " Dungy said, "is huge."

Dungy said Gruber was so important, the January 2000 loss to the Rams in the NFC title game might have ended differently if Gruber hadn't sustained a career-ending broken right leg during the final regular-season game.

But despite praise such as that, Gruber was blindsided by his selection to the Ring of Honor. Contrasting the honor with his humble beginnings made it tougher to digest.

"It's a bit overwhelming to think about the small Wisconsin town my athletic career began in," he said. "And now to be standing here … it's surreal."

PRICE UPDATE: Defensive tackle Brian Price isn't dealing with a new injury, as coach Greg Schiano seemed to suggest Tuesday. Instead, Price is not at offseason workouts because he's working with a trainer in his native California to rehab his pelvic and hamstring issues and get into better physical condition. Price missed most of his rookie season in 2010 after pelvis surgery and continued to experience pain last season. He also was slowed by weight gain brought about by inactivity after the surgery.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]

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