Not long after the Bucs drafted Bruce Gradkowski in April, the quarterback took a peek at the 2006 schedule and was pleasantly surprised: Bucs at Steelers, Dec. 3.
"It's been something that I've been looking forward to for a while now," the Pittsburgh native said. "When I first got drafted, everyone was talking about it, but I was like, 'Come on, now. That's a ways away. I'm just trying to make this team first.' I didn't think I'd be starting, that's for sure."
Yet, here he is, days from running onto Heinz Field as a starter against the team he grew up idolizing.
"I loved it when the defenses were crazy for the Steelers," Gradkowski said. "They had some great players back in the day - Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene. Those were some of the key guys, but I was a big fan of all of them."
Gradkowski said he outgrew his passion for the Steelers when he left for the University of Toledo, where the local television affiliates rarely aired anything but Browns and Bengals games.
That, however, won't diminish what this game means to him. "Getting a chance to play against them is going to be awesome," he said.
His especially large family agrees, which is why Gradkowski expects to have more than 100 relatives and friends at the game.
NO BEEF HERE: Receiver Michael Clayton, who at various points this season has been outspoken about his lack of opportunities, cleared the air Wednesday about his relationship with coach Jon Gruden.
"I don't want to make any comments or get anything stirred (up)," he said. "There is no beef between me and Coach Gruden."
Joey Galloway has been clearly defined as the No. 1 option at receiver - often at Clayton's expense - but Clayton respects Gruden's use of the 12-year veteran.
"I have no hard feelings about that if that's the way the head man wants to go," Clayton, in his third year, said. "We're going to try our best to make that work."
INJURY UPDATE: Left guard Dan Buenning, placed on injured reserve Monday, confirmed his right knee injury is a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He is likely to have surgery this week.
On Wednesday's injury report, six players were listed as questionable: safety Will Allen (ankle), cornerback Juran Bolden (shin), running back Michael Pittman (hamstring/shoulder), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle), tight end Alex Smith (ankle) and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms (ankle).
Wyms, who has missed three straight games, returned to practice on a limited basis. Smith and Pittman were unable to participate.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377.