It’s not often an athlete can play at the highest level while playing in his own backyard.
That’s the opportunity Bruce Gradkowski has enjoyed since 2014. So it was an easy decision to want to return to Pittsburgh.
Gradkowski apparently had interest from other NFL teams, per this great feature article by the Trib’s Kevin Gorman, but wanted to stay close to home.
“Ideally, I don’t want to be anywhere else. I’d rather be back here, in my hometown,” he told Gorman.
Should Ben Roethlisberger suffer the same unfortunate luck as last season, Gradkowski may be counted on to lead the team. The fact that he had to sit out last season with finger and shoulder injuries, missing the opportunity to play, weighed heavily on him. But he credits the coaching staff for keeping him engaged.
“They wanted me to stick around during the season, and I helped any way I could. It was great to still be a part of that, and Coach Tomlin is humble in a sense that he lets you help out. He doesn’t have an ego where he won’t listen to ideas.”
He also had the opportunity to be another mentor to Landry Jones, the man who would eventually fill-in for Roetlisberger. Now, the two will be competing to be Big Ben’s understudy. But by all accounts, all the quarterbacks have a great relationship. A healthy competition.
“The relationships I’ve built with Ben and Landry and the coaches and the rest of the players, the longer you’re with one team it’s good because you’re building something special, and I feel it here.”
Though he is a veteran with experience coming off the bench, his Steelers’ resume is minimal. He’s only thrown three passes, the trio coming in the 2014 Wild Card loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He began last season on the PUP list and his season was over almost as quickly as it started. Activated on August 16th. Sent to IR on the 25th. At 33 and working on a one-year minimum deal, this could be his last chance in the league.
If that’s the case, or at least, whenever his career is finally over, Gradkowski is already prepping for his “Life’s Work.” He told Gorman he owns three Ohio restaurants, the aptly named Gradkowski’s (where you can get a burger with peanut butter on it, apparently), and started Pilgrimage Hospice in Pittsburgh, another example of the fantastic community work he’s done.