TAMPA — Few things excite an NFL crowd like a sack, with all the prancing and dancing that follows. But a standoff was a victory for left offensive tackle Paul Gruber, even if by comparison it was rather ho-hum.
No wonder the Bucs' gentle giant did not get much fanfare despite being one of the league's best at his position for 12 seasons. Gruber never missed a regular-season game due to injury or made a Pro Bowl. In fact, he didn't play for a team with a winning record until 1997, when the Tony Dungy-led Bucs, wearing pewter and red for the first season, defeated the Lions in the NFC wild-card game.
"I always felt he was one of the best left tackles in the game, but he never got the credit he deserved," former linebacker Derrick Brooks said.
All that is about to change.
Today, Gruber, 47, will become the fourth inductee into the Bucs Ring of Honor during the 2012 season, joining Hall of Fame defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon, coach John McKay and tight end Jimmie Giles. The Bucs will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. to reveal their choice of Gruber. His name and No. 74 will officially be added to Raymond James Stadium at a halftime ceremony during a game in 2012.
"It's a real honor," Gruber told the Times on Tuesday. "I haven't played the game in quite awhile, so to be recognized in this way is really special. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone.
"I think that's probably true, I didn't get a lot of recognition. But it was a game I enjoyed playing and I enjoyed competing every week at a high level. Recognition is not really why I did what I did."
In a way, Gruber is a perfect link from the Buccaneers of the '70s and '80s with the current era which began with the purchase of the franchise by Malcolm Glazer from the Hugh Culverhouse estate in 1995.
"Everybody wanted to play the Tampa Bay Bucs in those days," former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said, "except the right defensive end that had to go against Gruber."
Gruber said the highlight of his career was the 20-10 wild-card victory over the Lions, the final NFL contest played at Tampa Stadium. The next week, the Bucs lost the division playoff at Green Bay 21-7.
The Bucs missed the post-season in 1998, when Raymond James Stadium opened. The next year, they lost to the Rams 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game. Gruber was unable to play. He had fractured his leg in the regular-season finale at Chicago, when the Bucs clinched the NFC Central title, and retired after the season.
"We finally had a good nucleus of young players that were going to be competitive for years," Brooks said. "I always felt like if he hadn't gotten hurt, he could've been part of those teams for a few more years."
While Gruber has always been a man of few words, they carried a lot of weight.
When coach Sam Wyche attempted to make the Bucs wear orange jerseys and pants for the regular-season finale in 1995, Gruber stepped in.
"We waited for Gruber and when he got there, I asked him, 'What do you want to do about this Paul?' " Sapp said. "He picked up those orange on orange uniforms and walked into Sam's office, opened the door and said, 'No.' That's all he said. They started passing out the white pants right after that."
While Gruber was known for his athleticism and great feet, "he had a mean streak," former safety John Lynch said. It was on full display one Sunday when he got into a knockdown, drag-out fight with Bears defensive end Alonzo Spellman, and both were ejected.
"You talk about two big men rumbling,'' Lynch said of the fight. "Normally, you get involved, but everybody said, 'Let these two guys go, I'm not getting in there. '"
These days, Gruber lives a few hours outside of Denver. An avid outdoorsman, he has spent his retirement enjoying his family and dabbling in real estate. He will be present at today's news conference.
"In my opinion, this is well-deserved," Brooks said.