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Where Are They Now? Former Rams o-lineman & Super Bowl champion Mike Gruttadauria

The odds of an undrafted free agent making an NFL team are only slightly better than spotting a car with Hawaii license plates in the Bronx. Granted, it took a while, but aloha, Mike Gruttadauria.

After his name wasn't called during the 1995 Draft, the University of Central Florida center signed with the Dallas Cowboys and spent a short time on their practice squad. Not claimed off waivers by another team, but still hoping to play, Gruttadauria returned to Florida and unconventionally kept in shape by working at his dad's scrap tire recycling facility.

"Which sounds maybe glamorous, but it was anything but glamorous," Gruttadauria laughed. "It was basically garbage collectors, where they send us in trucks to go pick up mosquito-infested, muddy tires. I was on a truck with my uncle, and it was on the bad side of town, in a back alley, and there're maybe 40 tires I've got to bring up to the truck.

"And, of course, you learn the hard way that when you're in a back alley and three or four tires are stacked up perfectly, that is a homeless person's bathroom. Yeah, it was gross work, but still, my goal to make it in the NFL was strong. I'd be curling semi tires. I'd be doing military presses with semi tires. Other guys are rolling them. I wanted to lift them."

Following the 1995 season, the Cowboys were interested in signing Gruttadauria again. However, so were the Rams. And after he discovered what was happening at the team's facility in St. Louis, Dallas didn't have a chance.

"What blew my mind is, I learned they were showing my film from the preseason games. I was big on always trying to look for downfield blocks, get defenders hanging on the pile. Play to the echo of the whistle," Gruttadauria said.

"So I would do it every play and granted, it was easier for me, 265, 270 pounds, to run downfield than a Larry Allen or Nate Newton. Three hundred-pound guys are not running downfield. So it made me stand out even more. And when I learned that they were showing my film, I'm like, 'Wow! Yeah, I'm signing with St. Louis.'"

Yeah, St. Louis may be the "Gateway to the West," but Gruttadauria wasn't at risk of being run over by a welcome wagon.

"The guys were nice, but I was the undrafted guy who was on the streets two months ago, coming in and pushing starters for their jobs," Gruttadauria said. "And some of those starters were seven-, eight-year starters. They're all friends. In each other's weddings and stuff. I wasn't really allowed in the clique. if you will.

"So I just kept my nose down and did my work. I think I felt blessed because the coaches saw something in me. George Warhop and Steve Greatwood, who were my offensive line coaches when I first signed with the Rams, allowed me to compete."

Gruttadauria competed, and won, starting the first three games of his rookie season. And he did so without having much real experience. A receiver/tight end in high school, he played tight end as a freshman in college, moved to fullback that spring, and then to center. He had to learn how to snap, and worried about just making sure the ball got back to the quarterback. With the Rams, Warhop helped alleviate the nervousness.


"At some point, George took me aside and realized that I wasn't as, and this is hard for me to say really, that I wasn't as experienced with the nuances of understanding the position. And how I could really call a better blocking scheme protection for my guys had I understood where the responsibilities for the defensive end or the linebackers are," Gruttadauria said.

"He would teach me on chairs, on garbage cans, every defense, everyone in our division. It was like playing chess without fully understanding what all the pieces do. And I'm like, 'Wait a minute. I get it now. I understand the strategy. That's why we're calling this protection because of that.'"

More comfortable in his second season, Gruttadauria started 14 games in 1997, missing two because of an ankle injury, under a new head coach, Dick Vermeil. who had replaced Rich Brooks. Having previously been the head coach in Philadelphia for seven seasons, 1976-82, he had been away from the sideline for 15 years while working as a game analyst for CBS and ABC.

"I was excited. I still felt grateful that Rich Brooks brought me in, but it was different," Gruttadauria said. "The transition to Dick Vermeil, a guy that knows his business, comes in immediately and demands that respect for his football résumé. And Vermeil absolutely brought a family atmosphere. That was in contrast to where I felt it was with Rich Brooks, where it was like a business."


For a brief moment that season during the November 2 game in Atlanta, Gruttadauria was also in the business of being a pass-catching machine.

"I feel like O-linemen will say, 'Oh, that's no big deal. It just happens.' However, I have that ball, my first NFL reception, in my office," Gruttadauria said. "It was supposed to be a screen to Ironhead (Craig Heyward) and I was free-releasing to block the Will linebacker, and the ball got batted by somebody. So I reached out, grabbed it behind line of scrimmage, and I turn up field. And there's Craig like as a kid, 'Yeah! Grutt, you caught it!' And I'm like, 'No! Block the Will.'

"I'm not trying to say I'm a great athlete, but I had ball-handling skills as a younger college and high school football player. If he would have blocked the Will linebacker, I could have gotten a first down. It wouldn't be in the record books as one catch, one yard. It'd be one catch, 10 or 15 yards and a first down."

Yeah, about that. It's officially listed as one catch, zero yards. "It's zero? Well, thanks. Now I'm throwing that ball away," laughed Gruttadauria, who stands tied for 437th place on the Rams' all-time receiving yardage list, only 14,109 yards behind the leader, Isaac Bruce.

Gruttadauria's name became more prominently placed in team history in 1999, when after going 5-11 and 4-12 the previous two seasons, he helped the Rams post a 13-3 record and go on to win Super Bowl XXXIV.


"The talent was there. I mean, you can't dispute that. But there's a lot of very talented teams that don't make the playoffs," Gruttadauria said. "I think a key was just the way Vermeil voiced his expectations and discipline and the players understood it. The years previous, he had to weed out guys that didn't want to adhere to those things.

"I loved winning a Super Bowl. I'm so proud of it. But right on the heels of that athletically with my accomplishments, I'm only one of, I think, seven guys, maybe eight guys, that were on that (1996) Rich Brooks team, that won the Super Bowl. That's because we had what Coach Vermeil saw as guys that can help him get a championship.

"We can say, 'Here's what's expected. Here's how we do it. We work, we work, we work. We're going to get it.' And then you add talented guys like Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Mike Jones, Big Ray Agnew, and great things happen."

Involved with real estate investments, Gruttadauria and his wife, Christine, make their home in Sarasota, Florida, and have three children: Garrett, who recently graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in architecture and design; Christine, who also recently graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in event management; And Weston, a senior at Riverview High School, who has earned a football scholarship from the University of West Florida.

Gruttadauria has volunteer coached the offensive line at Riverview, where Weston played center, for the past four years.

"I love the game of football. Period. I love it because to me, it's not a game, it's a conduit for a great life," Gruttadauria said. "And I'm not just talking money. I'm talking discipline, understanding teamwork, ethics, value. Some of these kids that you coach don't get to experience many of the qualities in their home life that they can learn on a football field.

"So No. 1, I love providing that. And No. 2, I love it when they understand a play. The epiphany they have for a single play is the same epiphany I had when Coach Warhop taught me. These kids, they understand the game, they see why it could be so exciting. That's what I love."

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