A kick for the ages: Gramatica reflects on historic field goal, storied career

Place-kicker Martin Gramatica celebrates his history-making kick against Kansas on Nov. 8, at KSU Stadium as holder James Garcia looks on. Gramatica's 21-yard field goal with 45 seconds remaining in the second quarter increased K-State's lead to 21-9, and placed him as the all-time leading scorer in school history. (Jeff Cooper)

Sixty-five yards was all that separated Martin Gramatica from NCAA record books.

Standing at 5 feet 8 inches, 170 pounds, he was by no means the biggest kicker. However, he showed a leg for the ages on Sept. 12, 1998.

“Snap down, Gramatica’s kick is up. The kick is long enough … and the kick is good! He knocked it in there! Sixty-five-yard field goal for Martin Gramatica! It’s a new Kansas State record and the Cats’ will go to the locker room with a 59-7 lead!”

The words of voice of K-State Athletics Greg Sharpe filled the airwaves of Kansas radio on that September afternoon and will forever be tied to a historic day of K-State football.

“Automatica” Gramatica’s feat still stands as the longest field goal in NCAA history without the use of a tee.

“It happened so fast and it was right before the half,” Gramatica said. “I actually had one of my shoes untied, because I wore such tight shoes and I thought we were going into halftime. That’s when we called a timeout.”

Now serving alongside him as associate head coach and special teams coach, Sean Snyder approached his now 74-year-old father and convinced him to give Gramatica the try for the record.

“I had no idea how far it was (exactly), but I knew it was far because I could tell from where I was standing,” Gramatica said. “I could see how far the goalposts were from me. It was probably better off that I didn’t know, because if you do, you’re going to try to over-kick it and over-hit it. It’s usually what happens with a lot of longer field goals.”

Mark Janssen, who served as sports editor of the Manhattan Mercury from 1981-2009, was present on the record-setting day and said he was amazed in seeing Snyder allow Gramatica to kick the field goal at that juncture of the game.

“To demonstrate how appreciative he was, he allowed him to kick a 65-yarder,” Janssen said. “That game is 50-something to nothing going into halftime and he called a timeout just to give Martin a chance. The opportunities to try a record don’t come around that often.”

Gramatica’s story prior to coming to K-State also resonates with the longtime sportswriter.

“He came here basically as a soccer player,” Janssen said. “He had only played one year of high school football and caught the attention of (current linebackers coach of the San Francisco 49ers) Jim Leavitt. He really didn’t know too much about football and he was a very small guy. He knew how to kick a ball, but he was so consistent that you stopped thinking about it.”

Notre Dame came calling. However, the prestigious football program of the Fighting Irish was not something Gramatica was familiar with, which ended up giving K-State the edge in an ever-so important recruiting battle.

“Notre Dame had recruited him and he was so into soccer at that time that he knew nothing about Notre Dame football,” Janssen said. “Nothing about their tradition or their name, so he just sort of blew them off and coach Leavitt was down there. They flew him in during the middle of the summer, brought a tape and all of a sudden he’s a Wildcat and on campus 30 days later.”

Gramatica’s K-State career began in 1994 and he ended up playing for two years before suffering a season-ending injury prior to his junior season. Although it was tough to sit out in the middle of his career, the Argentinian is grateful for what set up a historic end to his tenure in Manhattan.

He won the Lou Groza Award for his 1997-98 junior campaign, which is given annually to the top kicker in college football. He also was named the runner-up before his final collegiate season.

“My leg came back stronger and better after the injury,” Gramatica said. “I worked out before I trained, but you never train as hard as you do during your rehab. I focused a whole year in strengthening my leg and when I came back, I felt a lot stronger and better. You make a few kicks right away and you get your confidence back up.”

Gramatica went on to spend 11 seasons in the NFL (1999-2008), including six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That also came during Tampa Bay’s victory in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. He also spent time in Indianapolis, Dallas and New Orleans before ending his career.

Where does Gramatica stand among the greats at the NCAA level? Janssen sees no reason why he can’t be called one of the best to ever hold the position.

“There’s not too many kickers that have those two things (a Lou Groza win and runner-up trophy) on their resume,” Janssen said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it. He has the longest field goal without a tee, so you have to put him up there.”