For Steelers backup quarterback Gradkowski, it's good to be home

August 15, 2013
by Ed Bouchette

The boomerang that was Bruce Gradkowski's under-30 NFL career reads like a US Airways flight schedule since it pulled its hub out of Pittsburgh:

Tampa to St. Louis to Cleveland to Oakland to Cincinnati. Finally, after five teams and seven years, his travels brought him back home at age 30.

"I think my time in the NFL has been special," said Gradkowski, a Dormont native who played at Seton-LaSalle High School. "I got to see a bunch of cities, live in different places, meet a lot of people, learn a lot of offenses. That's special stuff there. But, of course, it would be nice to be somewhere for a long period of time."

It would be nice to be the next Charlie Batch, who was a backup quarterback for his hometown Steelers the past 11 seasons. In that time, Batch was among the most popular players and had his own radio shows. The Steelers signed Gradkowski to take his place mainly because they wanted to get younger behind Ben Roethlisberger.

"Everyone loves Charlie Batch," Gradkowski said. "I'm not trying to come in and take anyone's place or be anyone else. Even my mom and them say, 'We love Charlie.

Charlie is a great guy, I asked him for advice in the past. He's a guy to lean on."

Batch also is only a phone call and a few miles away should anything such as injuries happen to Steelers quarterbacks. Gradkowski knows about them, too, because he feels they kept him from establishing himself as a starter rather than an NFL nomad.

He experienced two of those injuries after his best moment in the NFL. At Heinz Field Dec. 6, 2009, Gradkowski led the underdog Oakland Raiders to a huge upset of the reigning Super Bowl champs in front of many family and friends. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 121.8 passer rating. He led the Raiders on a 10-play, 88-yard drive in the final two minutes and tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with nine seconds left for a 27-24 Oakland victory.

"It was a great night, probably my best game I've played so far," Gradkowski said. "I had my family there for it. It was cool. That was the year I really felt I was coming into my own and understanding football more and more in the NFL. That was a special night."

It was his third consecutive start in place of the ineffective JaMarcus Russell, and he was establishing something until it all ended the next game in Oakland against the Washington Redskins.

"After we beat the Steelers, the next week I tore both of my MCLs, I was out the rest of the year," Gradkowski said.

"That was tough. And the next year I separated my right shoulder."

He signed with Cincinnati as a free agent in 2011 and played briefly in four games over two seasons before signing a three-year contract with the Steelers this year.

That came a month after his younger brother, Gino, earned a Super Bowl ring as a backup rookie guard/center with the Baltimore Ravens. That should make those two Steelers-Ravens games a test of loyalties for the Gradkowski family (With Matt Birk's retirement, Gino is competing with former Steelers draft pick, A.Q. Shipley, a Moon native, to start at center for the Ravens).

"Now, it's my turn," Bruce said. "He has a ring already."

The Steelers, of course, hope Gradkowski does not play much once the preseason ends, unless he is mopping up for Roethlisberger in runaway victories. But Roethlisberger missed three games in 2012 with shoulder and rib injuries, missed one game and was hobbled in a few others by a sprained ankle in 2011 and has played just one full 16-game schedule.

Gradkowski is the next quarterback up.

"This league is all about perseverance," Gradkowski said. "You're going to have ups, you're going to have downs. It's how you persevere, handle it and push through it. I love this game, any way to be a part of it and help a team do it, I'll do that."