On a day when the Bucs rushed for 246 yards, Gruber takes a quick look at the replay board; Gruber was on hand Sunday when the Bucs beat that record
As running back Warrick Dunn piled up yard upon yard Sunday, names such as James Wilder, Reggie Cobb and Gary Anderson were floated about in the press box.
Dunn was in the midst of recording one of the most impressive single-game performances in team history, and names such as Wilder's, Cobb's and Anderson's were brought up as records were surpassed.
At halftime, one man stood on the field who had blocked for all of those men. Paul Gruber began his career in 1988, as Wilder's stellar career was winding down. He opened running lanes for that one-time Pro Bowler, and later did the same for Dunn when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 1997.
Gruber blocked for Anderson when he gained 94 yards on just 10 carries at Chicago on September 8, 1991. He opened holes for Cobb to record three rushing touchdowns, tying a team record, against Detroit on November 20, later that same year.
Gruber was there on the second weekend of 1997 when Dunn, then a rookie, ran for 130 yards against Detroit on September 7 and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Dunn might be in line for that award again after this Sunday's performance, and Gruber was there again.
The 12-year Buccaneer great didn't suit up this weekend, however; he didn't throw a single block in Dunn's 210-yard outing. That's because, on September 5, Gruber retired from the NFL after spending the better part of 2000 rehabilitating a broken leg suffered in last year's regular season finale.
On Sunday, the team devoted its halftime to honoring Gruber, also known as 'Mr. Buccaneer.' Gruber, who remains very prominent in fans' memories of the team's exciting 1999 playoff run, was brought to midfield and presented with a framed jersey bearing his well-known number 74.
As the presentation began, a stirring video was displayed on both videoboards, chronicling Gruber's career. Early shots showed Gruber wearing the now-retired orange-and-red pirate on his helmet, blocking such NFL luminaries as Richard Dent, Jim Jeffcoat and Michael Strahan. The video closed with images of an emotional Gruber on crutches in Chicago last season and, in the last seconds, with the Bucs' new helmet sitting in a locker marked with his name.
"It was really overwhelming for me," said Gruber. "I guess I really didn't know what to expect. It was a good feeling to go out for the last time and be honored. It was great to thank the fans for the support they gave me during my career.
That was the central theme of Gruber's message when he took the microphone at the podium. A packed Raymond James Stadium house gave him a long standing ovation, after which Gruber said: "I guess when I retired in September, I had the opportunity to thank a lot of people who touched my career in a very meaningful way. The only people that I really didn't have a chance to thank in a public way was you, the fans.
"My wife Brenda and I feel very fortunate that we were able to play my entire career here in Tampa. I just want to take today to let you know – the fans – that I appreciate your support. I know there were some good times and some bad times, and you were there through all those times for my family and me. I just want to say thank you and let you know how I feel about playing here for 12 years."
General Manager Rich McKay preceded Gruber at the microphone and introduced the only man to play in 12 different seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "This game is measured by numbers, and nobody's numbers are better than Paul Gruber's," said McKay. "He played for us for 12 seasons; in 10 of those seasons, he started every game. Paul was a guy that not only showed up for Sunday, but showed up with a lot of class and played with great effort. If every pick that we make as a franchise is half the player and half the person of Paul Gruber, we'll be a pretty successful franchise."