If the Raiders have any player on their team that has been elevated to the mystical, rock star status that is normally reserved for players like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, this week it would have to be Raiders’ quarterback Bruce Gradkowski — at least he is amongst the Raider Nation, and those who report on the silver and black. As the saying goes, there is nobody more popular than the backup quarterback on a team without a consistent starter at the position.
This week, or at least until Raiders’ head coach Tom Cable says any differently, Gradkowski is that backup.
As far as backup quarterbacks go, Gradkowski isn’t your normal, run of the mill bench-warmer. He was signed before the 2009 season as an afterthought, and wasn’t even expected to make the final roster with the likes of Jeff Garcia, JaMarcus Russell, and Charlie Frye also handling snaps. Now, nearly a year and a half after being signed by the Raiders, he’s on the verge of winning the starting job…again.A funny thing happened along the way to the start of the 2009 season. Garcia quit, Russell was his usual lackadaisical self, and instead of battling Frye for the final spot in the rotation, Gradkowski was battling for backup to Russell — which he won. He played in seven games, starting four, and finished the season with a quarterback rating of 80.6. For the year, Gradkowski completed 82 passes on 150 attempts (54.7%) for 1,007 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Those aren’t Pro Bowl stats, but they are better than what Raider Nation has seen in Oakland for a while. More importantly, Gradkowski authored two of the Raiders’ five wins in 2009 with just four starts. For a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season in eight years, the scrappy quarterback gives them hope that the losing could finally end if he was given the opportunity to start a full season.
For many Raiders fans, that hope was dashed when the team made the draft-weekend trade for Jason Campbell, and then anointed their new quarterback as the starter shortly thereafter. Raiders fans weren’t alone in their disappointment. “Well, it’s tough,” Gradkowski told reporters of his demotion back in training camp. “We did a lot of good things here last year. It was exciting. But, hey, I can’t control the injuries that I had.”
Sunday, the nearly 50,000 Raiders fans in attendance made their choice clear by chanting, “Bruce,” near the end of the first half. Unfortunately for the fifth-year quarterback from Toledo, the fans don’t make the final call. Gradkowski, along with the rest of the world, will have to wait until Coach Cable makes his decision public on Wednesday. It’s possible that Gradkowski has already been told the decision, but the point is that it’s not his decision.
I don’t know if they influenced coach or not, but I think they just wanted to see what I could do and if I could give us a spark. I was very fortunate that we played well in the second half. Our guys were playing well. The young guys, Darrius [Heyward-Bey] and Louis [Murphy] had a great game and along with Darren McFadden, he played tough. Our offensive line was playing tough like they always do. It was a really good effort on all parts of the offense and our whole team. Our defense, some of the hits they made in the second half were unbelievable.
– Bruce Gradkowski to Tony Bruno on if the Raider Nation influenced Tom Cable into making the switch at quarterback Sunday against the Rams.
“I want to be the starter. In my mind, I am the starter. But that’s how you have to approach it,” said Gradkowski after leading the Raiders to a comeback win in week two. “We don’t play this game to be backups. We play this game to be starters in this league and win championships, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
That’s also why Raider Nation attends the Coliseum on Sundays, and it’s also why they have a love affair with Gradkowski. The feeling is mutual. In an interview on the Tony Bruno show, Gradkowski said, “The fans are awesome. The way that stadium was rocking the other day was unbelievable and I love those fans more than they even know.”
That love between Gradkowski and Raider Nation could grow if the quarterback can give them a winning season in 2010. That affection leads to nicknames and the quarterback does have his favorites. In the same interview with Tony Bruno, Gradkowski was asked which was his favorite.
“Yeah. I really don’t care. I like hearing them all. I like that Bruce Almighty, that’s pretty sweet. Anything they say, that’s cool with me. I just go with the flow. It was definitely exciting hearing the fans chant my name and it was a good day and hopefully more to come.”
He’s not the only one that hopes that…