On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the Dallas Cowboys for the first time in a decade, and Paul Gruber will be there.
For 12 years, that pretty much went without saying. Gruber was always there for the Buccaneers…year after year, game after game, play after play. In fact, Gruber was on the field the last time Tampa Bay played Dallas, something none of the current Buccaneers can say.
Gruber remained a vital part of nearly every offensive snap played by the Buccaneers from his rookie season of 1988 through last year's season finale in Chicago, when he broke his right leg in the third quarter of the victory that sealed Tampa Bay's first NFC Central Championship in 18 years.
After taking the offseason to rehabilitate his leg and ponder his future in the NFL, Gruber chose to retire on September 5. In a press conference held in the same locker room that saw the benefit of his quiet leadership for more than a decade, Gruber spoke of the friendships he had formed and the accomplishments he had made as a Buccaneer.
The Buccaneers will celebrate the same things on Sunday when they devote halftime to a ceremony in Gruber's honor. Gruber will be joined on the field by his wife Brenda, his sons Blake and Chase and his daughter Ashlyn for a presentation and several other as-yet-undisclosed activities.
Gruber was drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay in 1988 with the fourth overall pick. He started the first game of his rookie season at left tackle and did not miss so much as a single offensive snap for the next five years. He owns the team records for games played and games started (183 each) and is the only player in Buccaneer history to play in 12 different seasons.