The hallway that leads from the Eagles locker room and weight room to the cafeteria and back again is lined with pictures of Eagles past and present who have made the Pro Bowl.
Brandon Graham wanted on that wall so badly. The defensive end sat down with his wife Carlyne before the season and told her this was going to be the year.
Never mind that he had just turned 32 on April 3 and was heading into his 11th season. He was going to make the Pro Bowl, he told her.
“Talking to the wife, and I’m like, ‘Everyone thinking I’m old, I’m going to show them old. I’m going to go out there, I gotta get in that Pro Bowl. I only got a couple years left before I don’t know (how much longer) I’m going to be in Philly, so I gotta put one down I get out of here,’” said Graham on Wednesday.
He said he would like to play for 15 years. If he can make it that far, he still has another four years to go.
“I always said that as a younger guy,” said Graham. “You always see the older vets. I was a big Ray Lewis fan, so of course, to see him being there for 17 years at one place (in Baltimore) I didn’t know it would turn out like this the way I’m doing it, but now that I can kind of see some things, I’m like, ‘Man, I gotta continue keeping my body right.’ If you don’t get there, it’s cool. But as long as you set a goal, 15 is always my goal.”
Graham, who was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2016, was leaving the Eagles’ facility when head coach Doug Pederson called to tell him he had made the Pro Bowl.
“I really didn't get much words in with him,” said Pederson. “He was so excited and so thrilled…He's worked extremely hard in his career and probably worthy of making it maybe a couple of times. But just so happy for him and just sort of the cherry on top of his career.”
Graham said he thought of everyone, including his mom and dad, who helped him on his journey, one filled with ups and many downs. He began calling those who were with him on that path, with his defensive line running mate and good friend Fletcher Cox on that list.
“I think I’m more excited for him than I am myself,” said Cox, who was named to the Pro Bowl for a sixth straight season, one behind the Eagles’ record of seven in a row owned by Reggie White.
“To see all the hard work he put in and the things he sacrificed, the impact he makes on games sometimes goes unnoticed. Everybody around knows he’s been deserving that. This year he finally got the nod and I’m excited. He called me. I knew when the phone rang what he was calling me about. He was really excited. You could hear it in his voice, his family’s excited, and everyone here is excited because we know he deserves it.”
Graham has played at such a high level for so long that even some of his newer teammates didn’t know that this was his first Pro Bowl spot.
“To me, he’s one of the best defensive players I’ve been around,” said linebacker Alex Singleton. “I just assumed he had been to a ton of Pro Bowls. In my mind, when I got here last year, I was like, this dude’s a Pro Bowler. It’s just who Brandon Graham is.
“You guys know what kind of guy BG is, he’s the best in the world, the happiest guy in the world, most motivating, a true pro at this, and also a guy you love being around. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Left tackle Jordan Mailata lauded Graham for helping him develop from a rugby player to a football player.
“BG has helped my technique,” said Mailata. “Any time that he’s beating me, he always coaches me up, just little tips that I should be doing better. And also, boosting my self-esteem, telling me how much of a good player I am.
"And just telling me to be physical, be dominant. He always tells me, ‘they scared of you.’ He always tells me that every week, every day … Those little things, I really appreciate a lot. I think it goes a long way with my confidence, and just to know that a teammate of mine believes in me, it helps me play better.”
There are still goals for Graham this season, such as 10 sacks.
His last one was against Sunday’s opponent, Dallas, back on Nov. 1. That was his seventh. He said if he could reach that mark it would be icing on the cake, but what he really wants is to be playing football after Jan. 3 when the playoffs begin.
It’s a longshot, but Graham was a longshot for the first few years after being drafted 13th overall in 2010 when injuries then, later, a switch to a 3-4 defense under Chip Kelly nearly landed him on the waiver wire.
“It’s been a journey, man,” said Graham. “That’s why I was thinking about the journey when I got that call from Doug, and I wanted to call my wife and let her know and go crazy with her and have fun. I just thought about all the people that went through it with me. Players that have been on the field with us. The groups that I’ve been a part of, and the coaches that I’ve been a part of.
“I couldn’t ask for better people or better situations to learn from, that helped me to this day - the mindset of just don’t quit, keep going. (Trent) Cole, all the time, I’d see him at a high level every day, always excited, always having fun, so I’d try to take the same approach because life is what you make it … As long as you got air to breathe, baby, you can get there. You just gotta keep working. Don’t let anybody take it away.”
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