Induction into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame is probably the least surprising thing that has happened as part of Martin Gramatica’s football career, and considering his story, it was a longshot at best.
Gramatica, a native of Argentina, didn’t play organized football until he was a senior in high school in Florida. He did it to help a team who didn’t have a better option at kicker, but Gramatica was most interested in playing soccer.
At least until he was recruited by Kansas State, where he became perhaps the school’s most recognizable special teams player and a record holder for the longest field goal without a tee.
Gramatica’s accomplishments earned him enshrinement into the KSHOF Sunday at the Wichita Boat House along with six former athletes – Mike Bell, Bob Brannum, Al Kelley, Bob Kenney, Bill Lienhard, Nicole Ohlde – and former Pittsburg State football coach Chuck Broyles.
“I never knew what football was until I was 10,” Gramatica said during his induction speech. “I never thought a kicker could go into any kind of Hall of Fame. When you’re a kicker, you’re just trying to keep to keep your job day-by-day.”
Gramatica kept his job for 10 seasons, most notably his second, when he won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team. He played eight more years in the NFL, but that season was validation for his decision to pursue football after high school.
After that decision was made, Gramatica had multiple high-profile suitors, including KSU coach Bill Synder, who attended Sunday’s ceremony.
“I got recruited by Kansas State and Notre Dame,” Gramatica said. “When I went to (visit) Notre Dame, I saw (coach) Lou Holtz grabbing people by the facemask and punching them. I said, ‘I’m going to go see Coach Snyder.’”
Gramatica holds KSU career records for points, extra points and field goals. As a junior in 1997, he won the Lou Groza award as the nation’s top collegiate kicker. The following season, when he was the runner-up for that honor, Gramatica set the NCAA record by kicking a 65-yard field goal.
Those achievements would stand out in most venues other than Sunday’s ceremony. The eight inductees combined for All-America honors, professional and collegiate championships, and Olympic gold medals. Those were contributed by the three members of Kansas’ 1952 basketball national champion, Kelley, Kenney and Lienhard. Four other KU players, including Clyde Lovelette, made the Olympic team after winning the school’s first basketball title.
Kenney humbly acknowledged the accomplishments of past KSHOF honorees Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers and Rolando Blackman and turned to Snyder before calling him the “greatest football coach ever.”
“I realize I don’t have all the fancy credentials that some of the other people in this Hall of Fame have,” Kenney said. “But I’m happy with what has happened to me.”
Importance of family was a popular theme among Sunday’s inductees. Bell, a Bishop Carroll great who became an All-American defensive lineman at Colorado State before playing 12 years with the Kansas City Chiefs, became emotional when telling a story about his twin brother, Mark.
The two played together at Carroll and CSU, and Mark also played in the NFL. Emotion over their relationship cut Mike Bell’s speech short.
“I think you can tell that it means a lot,” Bell said. “I had a little more that I was going to say, but I can’t say it.”
The posthumous induction of Brannum, a Winfield native who became a basketball All-American at Kentucky in 1944, was accepted by his grandson and great-grandson. Kelley mentioned following his brother, Dean, to KU in 1950.
And Gramatica talked about how family values were instilled in him at KSU, where Snyder’s son, Sean, has been his father’s assistant since 1994.
“I hope when I’m older,” Gramatica said, “I still have a relationship with my kids like they have.”