It’s a player Pittsburgh Steelers fans hope they never have to see. Yet it’s one the team unquestionably has put substantial trust in.
A downright weird way to describe a player but for backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, it’s fitting. His uniform number is high than Pittsburgh passing attempts, five to three, with all of them coming in last year’s playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
For as much as we talk about the battle for the third quarterback, we pay no mind to the immediate backup should something – and everyone together, cross your fingers – happen to Ben Roethlisberger. It won’t be Landry Jones, Tajh Boyd, or any hybrid slash player thoroughly discussed during these summer months. It’s the nine year veteran. He hasn’t had to start a game since 2010, but he’s done it 20 times, 20 more than anyone else not sporting a number seven.
If you believe or care about such type of things, in the midst of a “youth movement,” Gradkowski is one of just eight current Steelers to play ten years in the league. He’s been through it all; late round draft pick, a rookie starter, a pure backup, a plug-in-play asset off the bench, the mentee, and the mentor. It’s a profile that everyone who surrounds him can relate to in some capacity.
It’s a complicated job description. On game day, Gradkowski’s role is minor – some words with the starter, mentally taking notes of the game but overall, relatively facile duty. Half the time, he doesn’t even bother with taking off his sweatpants. But it comes with the knowledge that in an instant, an injury, even someone ripping Big Ben’s helmet, to vault him into the game. It requires a complete knowledge of the offense and every week, preparing as if he’s the starter. Making peace of living with a quiet discomfort, never knowing when you’ll get your chance.
That’s what happened against the Ravens albeit in a game that was essentially over.
The fact he’s done that several times, including against the Steelers in 2010, creates that trust. Impossible to quantify but it’s that understanding of how to conduct yourself, how to prepare, and the confidence in carrying out that role, that makes a guy like Gradkowski the ideal backup.
Even Gradkowski likes to poke fun at himself, staring in a fake commercial about him being the backup-turned-starter in everyday life. But his role is a serious, valuable one, and it’s hard to ask for a better situation than the one the Steelers’ currently enjoy.