There was minimal backlash until Dec. 15, 2001, when Bill nailed a 42-yarder against the New York Giants, leaped into the air and tore his right ACL upon landing. The incident secured him a place in NFL blooper videotapes and left Bill riddled with holes from talk-radio potshots. Then, last November, before the Bucs played Carolina, Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun ripped Martin for his frequent histrionics. "The guy needs to act like he's been there before," said Sauerbrun. "He's making other kickers look bad."
The Gramaticas are befuddled by the criticism. "To understand," says Bill, "people have to know who we are." This is who they are: the embodiment of the purest American dream, an immigrant family that embraced its opportunity, worked tirelessly and succeeded. In October 1984, 37-year-old William Gramatica flew from Buenos Aires to Miami and one month later sent for his wife, Laura, and their three sons, ages 22 months to nine years. It was a brave and difficult move. William, a veterinarian whose grandfather had emigrated from Italy to Argentina, and Laura, a gymnastics teacher, had raised their family in San Isidro, near Buenos Aires, and on a farm in the distant hills of Chaco, more than 800 miles away. When Martin was born, he was outfitted in the blue-and-yellow of the Boca Juniors, the professional soccer side that is the New York Yankees of Argentina and to whom the family was devoted. However, the depressed Argentine economy forced the Gramaticas to make a choice, and they left, William says in accented English, "because the United States is the greatest country in the world."
The family lived briefly in South Florida before William found work in his specialty—transplanting embryos into cattle for breeders—near Oneonta, N.Y., 200 miles northwest of New York City. There, they watched on television as Diego Maradona scored his notorious "hand of God" goal, plus one other, to lead Argentina past England in the quarterfinals en route to the 1986 World Cup title. Late that year, however, weary of cold weather and a homogeneous culture, the Gramaticas moved back to Florida, to La Belle, a town of 4,210 near the western edge of Lake Okeechobee. They eventually settled into a plantation-style house surrounded by grassy fields on the outskirts of town and opened Polo Restaurant in the village, serving pizza and pasta as well as steak and barbecue, reflecting both their Italian and Argentine roots.
Mom and Dad cooked; the boys cleaned, waited and bused tables. The townsfolk, a stew of natives and transients attached to the citrus industry, flocked to Polo. "It became like a small-town diner, where the village would gather," says Doyle Bedingfield, a high school classmate of Bill's. "When you walked in, it was like you were at the Gramaticas' dinner table and their mom would say, 'Let me cook you something.' "
Dad mowed the grass short at the back of the family's property, constructed goals and joined his boys in spirited games of two-on-two soccer. Because La Belle had no youth soccer program (and no high school team), Martin and Bill played on a travel team based in Fort Myers, 30 miles away. Martin, quick and adroit with his feet, was good enough that in the winter of his junior year, 1992-93, he spent a month practicing with Necaxa, a professional team, in Mexico City.
That was the blueprint for his future until the spring, when another suitor came calling. "Everybody in town knew about the Gramatica boys, that they were good soccer players and good athletes," says La Belle High football coach Ron Dunbar. He begged Martin and Bill, who was a freshman, to come to spring practice and kick. William wouldn't allow it, fearing what he had seen of football on television. But after the boys kicked informally one afternoon, Dunbar drove straight to Polo and told William, "You have to let them kick. They can win a scholarship. They can be in the NFL someday."
Instantly, William threw himself into his boys' football careers with the same passion he had devoted to soccer. Beyond the wire fence at the back of the property, he built a narrow goalpost out of white PVC piping. He helped the boys strengthen their quadriceps by having them lift cinder blocks with their feet (which they stuck through the holes in the blocks). And the boys kicked and kicked. They kicked from the low-cut grass into the knee-high pasture grass and back. They kicked in rainstorms—"Because it might be raining in a game someday," says Bill—and wind. They kicked over the scraggly myrtle bush that rose from the pasture. They kicked from impossible angles and played a placekicking version of H-O-R-S-E with their only football until it was puffy and misshapen.
Martin kicked in high school only as a senior, in the fall of 1993, hitting 8 of 12 field goals, including a 37-yarder to beat Naples High, a much larger school. The following spring, long after most colleges had filled their scholarship allotments, Kansas State defensive assistant Jim Leavitt went south in search of a kicker. "I just wanted somebody who could kick off deep and give my defense field position," says Leavitt. He called a coach in Naples, who directed him to La Belle. Leavitt watched tape of Martin and enticed him to visit Kansas State. Michigan State and Notre Dame still had interest, but Leavitt persuaded Wildcats coach Bill Snyder to offer Gramatica a scholarship before the youngster left Manhattan.
Bill followed Martin at La Belle High and played on teams that won 24 games in two years. In 1994, his junior season, he kicked a 47-yard field goal with four seconds to play, giving La Belle a 15-14 win over Pahokee, a powerhouse that the Cowboys had never beaten. "Bill followed the kick all the way to the goal line and slid across the end zone on his knees," recalls Bedingfield.
Bill signed with Florida State, but he left in October 1997, after coach Bobby Bow-den recruited Sebastian Janikowski, an experience that left the Gramatica family bitter. Bill transferred to South Florida and in '99 moved into an apartment with Martin, then a rookie whom the Bucs had taken in the third round. It is a pattern with the Gramaticas: Nobody is left alone. When Martin went to Kansas State, his parents spent months at a time living with him in his small apartment. When Bill went to Arizona as a fourth-round draft pick in 2001, Laura moved in with him for the season, cooking his meals, brewing his favorite caf� con leche (coffee with milk) and dropping him off every day at practice, where he unabashedly kissed his mom goodbye in the parking lot. "I'm not embarrassed by that," says Bill. "I'm proud." Santiago has moved into Bill's old room in Martin's house. William has shuttered Polo and started a cattle-breeding business (Three Point Angus Ranch) in Dunnellon, which is a 90-minute drive from Tampa, compared with the three-hour haul from La Belle.