Bruce Gradkowski returns to the scene of his greatest triumph this weekend disappointed he won’t be starting but preparing in case the Raiders need someone with actual experience beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Gradkowski’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy capped an 88-yard drive with no time outs in less than two minutes as Oakland scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and beat the Steelers 27-24.
Playing in his hometown in front of friends and family, Gradkowski completed 20 of 33 passes for 308 yards. When the Raiders arrived in town, Gradkowski had most of the team over to his parents’ home for a home cooked meal.
Less than a year later, Gradkowski goes back to Pittsburgh as a backup to Jason Campbell, having not played in a month because of a sprained A-C joint in his throwing shoulder.
Coach Tom Cable was adamant Gradkowski would remain the starter until last week, when instead he said he was leaning toward going with the hot hand. He made it official this week, naming Jason Campbell, the starting quraterback throughout a three-game win streak, as the starter.
“It’s tough because you always want to play, especially in the big games, and this is a big game for us,” Gradkowski said Thursday. “We’re playing a good football team and you want to be a part of that. But it fell at the wrong time. But the thing I think about is it will be even sweeter and we’re playing for the AFC championship and I’m starting going into that. I’ll be prepared to play.”
Gradkowski said he is healthy enough to make every throw necessary.
“The way I feel now, I realize I wasn’t ready the last couple of weeks,” Gradkowski said.
Gradkowski’s mother will once again provide food, but this time with a twist.
“I was going to have all the guys over but we get in a little later this year, so my mom’s offering to bring the food to the hotel,” Gradkowski said. “So they’re real troopers, and she just wants to help out any way they can.
“ I love the camaraderie, though. The reason our families watch games is because they care about who you play with, and that’s how my family is. They want to see who that guy next to me is and put a face with a number. They enjoy that stuff.”
Gradkowski is enjoying the Raiders’ team success and the “next man up” philosophy, figuring sooner or later he’ll get another chance.
“I know there’s going to be a point again where I play this year, so that’s what I’ll be ready for,” Gradkowski said.
More to come . . .