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Gramatica is back on the job

Martin Gramatica felt the urge to celebrate his winning 46-yard field goal Sunday for the Cowboys but was embraced by his new teammates before his feet could leave the ground.

His career, however, made a huge leap.

"I can't even tell you what I was thinking," he said of the kick with one second left that beat the Giants. "It's still hard to believe."

Since being released by the Bucs in 2004, Gramatica has not held a regular job in the NFL. Unknown to the league, he had abductor and abdominal muscle surgery, but during his 14-month recovery he didn't receive a call from any team.

"Nobody knew that I had surgery," he said. "So not to get any opportunities was really very tough."

The reason? Probably because NFL teams don't have much of a need for a 31-year-old kicker who converted just 61.5 percent of his field goals for the Bucs in 2003 and 57.9 percent in '04.

Except for a cup of coffee with the Colts to kick off two years ago and again last season, Gramatica had slipped under the radar. He spent his time staying in shape and flying to workouts with NFL teams until the Patriots, who had drafted Memphis kicker Stephen Gostkowski, invited him to training camp.

"When they drafted a kid in the fourth round, I knew he'd have to really be bad for them not to release me," Gramatica said. "But I knew I'd have an opportunity for other teams to see me."

He subbed in three games this season for injured Colt Adam Vinatieri. He spent the next several weeks bouncing from team to team for workouts, losing hope.

"I had just kicked at a workout for the Texans in Houston the week before when Dallas called me," he said. "But it was just to see who was out there, and I thought the Cowboys wanted to do the same thing. I almost didn't go. I never expected them to sign me."

But coach Bill Parcells had lost confidence in Mike Vanderjagt, who was 13-of-18 in field-goal tries. Gramatica's first assignment? To kick in the windy confines of Giants Stadium in a key NFC East game.

"The first one, I was a little nervous to say the least," Gramatica said of his miss wide right. "It was my first kick in a long time and a 44-yarder. You want to make it for your confidence and to prove to your new teammates that you can do the job."

He got another chance right before halftime and drilled it from 41 yards.

"I tried to calm myself down," Gramatica said. "Making that field goal right before the half, for me personally, was huge. Otherwise I might have come out of the locker room doubting myself. But confidence-wise, it really helped."

He made a 35-yarder in the third quarter. The game appeared headed for overtime tied at 20, but Tony Romo, the 26-year-old quarterback making just his sixth start, mounted a last-ditch drive and put the Cowboys in field-goal range.

"I was warming up in the net and didn't realize how much time we had. Next thing you know, I'm out there. Normally, punters are the holders in this league and they know not to talk to kickers before a big field-goal attempt. But Tony looked at me,'' Gramatica said of his quarterback/holder, ''and just said, 'The wind hasn't changed much since warmups.' That seemed to relax me a little bit. When I saw the ball go through, it was an unbelievable feeling."

The only one more elated was Parcells, who can't seem to push a wrong button these days.

"I told (Gramatica) he was making me look good," Parcells said. "You can't play this game in this league in critical situations without being able to rely on your kicker. I am happy he had success. That kick gets him on the team for sure."

After the game, Gramatica's cell phone blew up. He heard from former Bucs teammates Shaun King and Warren Sapp. But his biggest reception came from wife Ashley and 8-month-old son Nicolas, who have relocated temporarily from Tampa to Dallas.

"I'm happy my family got to enjoy it," Gramatica said. "For all that I went through, it was harder for them not to see me get a chance to kick. I appreciated all the fans who stuck by me in Tampa and followed my career.

"I just didn't want this much attention. I don't want everyone to get too excited. I hope to make them all, but maybe not. It's just one game. I've got to make a lot more kicks."

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com.

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