Zooming with Brandon Graham

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham speaks with members of the media at the NFL football team's practice facility in Philadelphia, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The eagles ended their season with a 17-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Matt Rourke (AP)

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham speaks with members of the media at the NFL football team's practice facility in Philadelphia, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The eagles ended their season with a 17-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

It’s Sunday, February 4th, 2018.  Super Bowl LII.  The Philadelphia Eagles are leading the New England Patriots 38-33 after a touchdown by Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.  There’s 2:16 left on the game clock in the fourth quarter, which is more than enough time for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to march his team down the field and score.  However, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham had other plans.  Every football fan who watched that game knows exactly what happened next.

The ensuing strip sack by Graham would ultimately turn the tide of Super Bowl LII, and result in the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory.  That one play took an already popular Eagles player and made him a Philadelphia hero.  Recently, I was lucky enough to be one of nearly 300 Eagles fans invited to take part in a zoom call with Brandon Graham.  During this call, participants could submit any questions we had to Eagles insider Dave Spadaro, and he would ask a handful of those questions to Brandon Graham.  There were plenty of great questions asked about Graham’s childhood, college career, and pro career in the NFL, as well as questions regarding COVID-19.

Before Brandom Graham became a Philadelphia sports icon, he grew up as the man of his childhood household.  Being raised by only his mother, Graham had to fill the role that a father would usually play, and when asked about a driving factor that led him to the NFL, he mentioned how much of an influence his mother had on him.

“Growing up in a single-parent household as the older sibling to my sister, I had to grow up early, I had a lot of stuff that I had to do that a husband normally would do like taking out the trash and things like that.  I picked up a lot of slack with being in the house and helping my mom and wanting better.  It wasn’t perfect, but just making sure that I was a great role model for my sister was something my mom used to always tell me about,” Graham said.

When asked about how long Graham had been a talker on the field, he noted that he has always been this way, but that he has had to change the way he says things throughout his career in the NFL.

I’ve always been this guy since little league.  You know it’s just all fun.  I learned to talk without cussing, I had to get better with that as the times got different. ”

— Brandon Graham

“I’ve always been this guy since little league.  You know it’s just all fun.  I learned to talk without cussing, I had to get better with that as the times got different.  Some of the stuff that would come out of someone’s mouth would trigger me, and that would make me say something.  Sometimes somebody might say something that might hit a nerve and then I gotta say my piece and show them what I’m gonna do,” Graham joked.

Despite the fact that the NFL is the only one of the four core American sports leagues that hasn’t had its season postponed, the impact of COVID-19 has still been felt throughout the offseason.  Players have been unable to practice with each other as they would normally do during any other offseason.  Those practices build not only the skills of the players, but also their chemistry and bonds with each other.  Graham knows this well, so he and nearly the entire Eagles defensive line organized a short trip to Texas where they would practice and train together.

“We figured it was safe enough for us to all come down together and train for a couple days and get some work in before training camp in July.  It’s good to see everybody and to be in the presence of each other, especially because we can’t have OTAs,” Graham added

The Eagles’ defense has gone through many noticeable changes throughout free agency and the draft this offseason.  While core players like Malcolm Jenkins and Nigel Bradham left, there were promising additions such as Javon Hargrave and Darius Slay.  When asked about how he feels about the current state of the Eagles defense, Graham emphasized his optimism.

“I’m really excited with the roster, both offense and defense.  Usually around this time we’re able to see what we had for the year and where we needed to get stronger, but this time around, I think that once training camp comes we gotta go prove it.  I really do believe that we filled a lot of holes that we had last year, and I know that some guys are gonna shock us at camp this year.  It’s crazy to see what a year does for somebody if they take things seriously.  I’m excited to see who are gonna be the guys that step up that we aren’t talking about right now,”  Graham said.

Of course, the elephant in the room that sparked many of the questions throughout the zoom call was COVID-19.  While returning players have already gotten used to or have been accustomed to life in the NFL as opposed to college football, incoming rookies haven’t been able to experience that yet due to the pandemic.  On the topic of rookies possibly having trouble with translating from college football to the NFL, Graham believes that it will be more difficult than usual, but that he believes that they can persevere.

“It’s hard for them because you can’t get out on the field and actually go through and make mistakes and learn from them like you would in OTAs.  I think everybody’s gonna be behind, but I don’t think they’re gonna be that far off.  I think that once they get their training schedule and once they know what to expect, I think they’ll settle down and settle in.  It’s gonna be on us, as leaders, to help them.  We have a good personnel of players and good people on this team and people that are gonna help and encourage those guys in every way.  I’m not really worried, I just hope that they can translate everything to the field,” Graham added.

Outside of its impact on sports, COVID-19 also affects the daily lives of every person, as I’m sure we all know very well by now.  Graham is no different, of course, and has had to adjust his home life due to the effects and restrictions of the Coronavirus.

I think my wife and I do a good job of doing different things with her, I do a lot of puzzles with her, we do a lot of flashcards, and we take her on bike rides around the neighborhoods and different areas.”

— Brandon Graham

“I try to explain everything to my baby girl, she’s understanding a lot now and always asking questions, so I try to tell her as much as she wants to know.  I think my wife and I do a good job of doing different things with her, I do a lot of puzzles with her, we do a lot of flashcards, and we take her on bike rides around the neighborhoods and different areas.  We try to do all that we can and take it one day at a time while staying safe,” Graham said.

Tom Brady recently played alongside Phil Mickelson in a golf match against Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods, and throughout the match, there were multiple instances where Brady either heavily implied or flat out said that the Eagles and his loss to them in Super Bowl LII still haunts him to this day.  When Graham was asked about his opinion on Brady’s comments, he laughed about it, but he ultimately made it clear that he’s more focused on the future than the past.

“It felt good hearing that, but you know I wanna go and do it again, I wanna do something different.  I’m always thankful, but I do wanna create some more good memories for us and hopefully win a couple more Super Bowls before I’m done.  I know that Tom and I will have a conversation one of these days talking about the past , and I’m excited for that, but right now I’m trying to get another one for Philly.  It was so much fun when we were on that bus going down Broad Street , and I know that everybody here felt that same feeling,” Graham stated.

As we look toward the future and the coming NFL season, there is much doubt about how games will be played, if at all.  Regardless of those uncertainties, however, Brandon Graham made it very clear that one thing remains certain;

“This year, we’re gonna have a really good team.”