Paul Gruber A Deserving Member of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor

I am certain that when the name Paul Gruber was revealed as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers latest addition to their Ring of Honor earlier today; several of the franchise's newer fans uttered, "Who?"

For Gruber, anonymity is nothing new. The quiet, unassuming mountain of an offensive lineman never received the recognition he deserved. Old time Buc fans can understand Gruber's value - even if his peers failed to do so.

Had Gruber played for the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants, he would have been regarded as one of the best offensive linemen to play the game and already be a member of the Hall of Fame.

Instead, he was drafted in the first round of the 1988 draft by the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were already 4 years into what would be a 14 year playoff drought. For the first seven years of his NFL career, Gruber never played for a team that didn't lose double digit games in a season.

In 1995, the team "broke through" with a 7-9 season. Then returned to mediocrity in 1996, going 5-11.

Gruber tasted the playoffs for the first time in his career in 1997.

Yet, despite not making a Pro Bowl during his 12 year career, Gruber certainly belongs among Lee Roy Selmon, Jimmie Giles and coach John Mckay.

We'll detail why after the jump.

Gruber is widely regarded by most as the best offensive lineman in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. A bedrock from the day he was drafted, he began his stellar career playing 4,580 consecutive offensive snaps. In 1989, he went the entire season without a holding penalty.

The consummate professional, he was the one shining example of a quality football player on a team of lemons.

"Even though the team was struggling a lot then was going through some difficult times," Former Bucs Safety John Lynch told the Tampa Tribune, "'Groobs' was one of those guys who always just kept doing his job and doing what he needed to do to get ready for Sundays.''

During Gruber's tenure, the Bucs quarterback never had to worry about his blind side. While stats like pancakes and stymies are used to track offensive linemen statistically today, Gruber's greatness was only analyzed by his absence.

In 1993, embroiled in a bitter contract dispute, Gruber held out - ending his streak of consecutive snaps. The Bucs offense struggled with pass protection and running the football until their rock returned to the lineup.

Sadly, the man that started so many games for the Bucs didn't get an opportunity to play for a chance at the Super Bowl. A broken leg in the 1999 season finale against Chicago would put Gruber out for the post season that ended just a few points short in the NFC title game in St. Louis and eventually ended his playing career.

He officially retired in 2000.

Some would say Doug Williams was more deserving of being the next in line - but if you look at him statistically - he can hardly be argued as the best Bucs quarterback ever to play. In fact, even Josh Freeman has had better numbers than Williams in his career.

Others like James Wilder, Kevin House, Ricky Bell and Richard "Batman" Wood certainly deserved consideration.

Yet when you think Paul Gruber, a man who hasn't been appreciated for the player he was on and off the football field - it just feels right. He stands as the measuring stick for all Buccaneer tackles.

Gruber belongs in the Bucs' Ring of Honor. In 2012, he will be.

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