At times like these, it’s best to step aside, and let the professionals do the writing. Here’s Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times in August of 1993:
Okay, knock the Arena League if you will. [Jay] Gruden will just shrug and give you that Huck Finn grin of his. “There is a lot of silliness,” he said.
Underneath, however, Gruden also says there is something else, something that stokes his competitiveness. Something a lot like football.
“On the field, it’s football,” he said. “You get hit there as hard as in any league. Losing hurts just as much. Winning feels just as good.”
It is that, more than anything, that has kept Gruden in this game. He came to it almost accidentally; after leaving Barcelona of the World Football League, he called then-coach Fran Curci simply because the team was new to his hometown of St. Petersburg. He almost left it immediately.
“Our first game was in Jacksonville, in front of about 1,200 people,” he said. “As soon as I laid eyes on those Zubaz uniforms, I almost went home. The whole first week, I thought about leaving.”
In the end, he stayed, and he started to fall in love with this zany game….
Suffice it to say he is not here to get rich. Gruden is paid $500 a game, $650 if he wins, $1,250 if he wins the ArenaBowl. And he’s one of the lucky ones. Gruden, unlike other players, is a year-round employee. Still, he makes less than $30,000 per year.
He is a star in his hometown, yet he says he almost is never recognized when he goes out. There have been no endorsement opportunities. Sadly, there have been no NFL opportunities, either.
Gruden shakes his head. By now, he has the lines down pat, about how he knows he’s a little shorter (6 feet 1) than NFL standard, how others can throw it a bit farther. Down deep, however, he still wonders.
“I’d just like to see,” he said. “If a team brought me and cut me, that would be fine. Just prove to me I’m not good enough. I watch television, and I see guys who I played against in college who I didn’t think were very good playing just because they’re 6-4. You see a guy go 10-of-30, and it eats you up inside. Just give me one day at camp. See if I can throw the out route. See if I can throw it deep. That’s all I ask.”
It’s all great, but especially the fact that he almost walked out because of the Zubaz uniforms.
Speaking of which, I called the Tampa Bay Storm — one of his former teams — and requested every known photo of Gruden in Zubaz. I wasn’t the first to call. Wasn’t the second, either. The team’s media relations department is getting in touch with its then-photographer to see what else they can find. For now, though, look above and enjoy.
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