Friends of former NFL kicker Bill Gramatica gave him a call earlier this summer after seeing a highlight on TV of Brazilian soccer player Maurides being taken off the field when a post-goal backflip ended up with him on a stretcher after spraining his knee.
Maurides joined Gramatica and a select company of players who are in a club that nobody would choose to be in — those who suffered injuries while celebrating a score.
Georgia junior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is in the group now after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Saturday against Clemson when he jumped up in the end zone after Todd Gurley’s 75-yard touchdown run.
“It’s so unfortunate because it seems like he’s probably one of their top receivers,” Gramatica said. “A lot of times it could have already been 90 percent torn for example in my case. I can’t speak for him, but in my case when the surgeon went in to repair my knee it frayed like it kind of cut a rope, it didn’t just snap. It had already been slowly kind of tearing away a little bit.”
Gramatica leaped in the air in joy after booting a 42-yard field for Arizona against the New York Giants in December 2001. It was the last kick of his rookie season because the left-footed Gramatica tore the ACL in his right knee when he landed.
“I was kicking in the Meadowlands into the wind,” said Gramatica, whose older brother Martin kicked in the NFL for 10 seasons and whose younger brother Santiago kicked for South Florida. “My longest kick in warmups was like 37 yards. The wind was just howling. To be able to make a 42-yarder. … I was pretty excited, you know? I knew those three points were important.”
Gramatica’s name gets brought up whenever a player has a similar injury in exuberance like he did. It did once again when Mitchell was hurt.
“I guess it’s good and it’s bad,” he said of that notoriety. “It happened like 12 years ago and people are still talking about it. It’s funny because now your last name’s become a verb now, kind of like Tebowing, Kaepernikcing, I guess they’re calling it they pulled a Gramatica or something.”
Sure enough Gramatica’s name was brought up by ESPN’s Keith Olbermann on Monday night when he decided to make Mitchell one of the night’s “worse” persons in the sports world for not learning from the mistakes of others.
He mentioned former Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who was knocked out of the BCS national title game loss to Florida in the 2006 season when he celebrated a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff and hurt his left foot. He mentioned former NFL quarterback Gus Frerrote in 1997 spraining his neck head-butting a wall behind the end zone after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run.
Ted Ginn Sr., who has coached at Glenville High School in Cleveland since 1976 and has been its head coach since 1997, still looks at celebrations after scores unkindly.
“For me, I’ve been coaching 30-something years, that’s one of the things I don’t like,” Ginn Sr said Tuesday. “When Ted was in high school (at Glenville), I didn’t allow it and my kids don’t do it.”
If they do, Ginn Sr. said, they have to do “running and some type of punishments.”
Georgia managed to avoid any injuries when virtually its entire team emptied the sideline against Florida in 2007 in Jacksonville, but not with Mitchell.
“You can’t temper celebration,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That would be a bad thing to do for us. We’ve done a good job of that from time to time. You’ve got to play with enthusiasm and energy. You’ve got to celebrate with your teammates.”
Richt said he actually had a teammate at Miami who scored a touchdown and tore an ACL in a celebration.
“It was sad,” Richt said, “but I think Malcolm’s got a good attitude about it.”
Former Georgia safety Thomas Davis, a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers who has undergone three ACL surgeries on the same knee, phoned Mitchell to try to lift his spirits.
“I try to tell (the) guys to be careful in your celebrations, because you can come down the wrong way and tear a knee up, which is what happened to their player,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday.
Mitchell jumped up together with receiver Chris Conley and Gurley after the touchdown run Saturday.
“It’s kind of a given thing that we always celebrate the same way,” Conley said. “We always have a little competition to see who can jump higher.”
Conley expects Mitchell’s ACL to change that.
“It’s kind of an unspoken that we’re not going to really do that anymore,” Conley said. “We’ll find another way to celebrate.” I
After his injury, Gramatica played in three more NFL seasons.
“I toned it down just a little bit, especially on normal field goals, but the emotion I had playing wasn’t toned down at all,” he said.
Gramatica said his freak injury has actually turned into a positive because his name is still out there, which opens doors.
Gramatica and his brothers own a company that manufactures structural insulated panels. They’ve built two homes for free for wounded veterans in the Tampa area, where the Gramaticas live, and have three more on the way.
Gramatica had a few words for Mitchell.
“If you talk to that kid,” Gramatica said, “wish him luck.”