Gruber has been a starter from the day he joined the Bucs as a first-round pick in 1988. In fact, he had never missed a single snap, a streak of 4,850 plays, until he sat out last season's first live games in a contract dispute. He was all but traded to the Raiders, but the deal fell through when L.A. and Gruber couldn't reach an agreement. Eventually, Hugh Culverhouse, the late Tampa Bay owner, convinced Gruber to sign a four-year, $8.6 million deal with the Bucs. As the story goes, Gruber told Culverhouse, "I'm tired of losing," to which Culverhouse replied, "How the hell do you think I feel?"
Culverhouse assured Gruber the team was committed to bringing top draft picks and free agents to Tampa Bay, and that promise meant more to him than a Pro Bowl nod. "One of my goals is to make the Pro Bowl, but it's something I can't control." Gruber says. "If the Pro Bowl is what the Lord intends, so be it. Otherwise, I'll just play and give it all I've got."
Coming On Strong
Viking defensive end James Harris, whose interception at the line of scrimmage led to Minnesota's only touchdown in a 13-10 overtime win over Green Bay last Thursday, has always been a bit of a misfit on the football field. An undrafted free agent, Harris played tight end in his first season at Temple. He moved to outside linebacker his sophomore year, eventually setting a school record for blocked kicks, with nine. After signing with Seattle before the 1992 season, Harris was switched to nosetackle. He struggled and was cut before the season, but a few weeks later he was signed by the Vikings and put on the practice squad.
"I've confused a lot of coaches in my day," says the 6'4", 270-pound Harris. "In college NFL scouts said I was too small to play defensive line and too big to play linebacker. The question was whether I could stop the run."
He proved himself this year in a three-way battle in training camp to replace Pro Bowl end Chris Doleman, who had been traded to Atlanta. Harris's success was remarkable, considering that when he joined the Vikings, he didn't even know how to gel into a three-point stance.
"He had played so many positions, it was a matter of teaching him techniques and moves," recalls defensive line coach John Teerlinck, who gave Harris a spiral notebook and ordered him to record every mistake he made and every correction he was taught. Harris still diligently chronicles his play after practices and games. Teerlinck has also spent countless hours working on Harris's psyche, toughening him up mentally.
"You have to be tough, growing up where I did, in East St. Louis [Ill.], but it's a different type of toughness," Harris says. "You grow up always thinking that somebody's out to get you. I was fighting an inner battle with myself. I've learned how to channel that energy into getting to the quarterback."