Eagles-Jaguars: Another Storybook Ending Courtesy of Brandon Graham
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — In Philadelphia, Nick Foles is everything Brandon Graham should be.
Foles is an icon in the city after "leading" Eagles fans to the one thing they always wanted, a Super Bowl championship. He was the centerpiece of the most famous play in franchise history, the Philly Special. The pilot of four consecutive playoff wins until an uncharacteristic Alshon Jeffery drop in New Orleans, and a player loved so passionately by some in the fan base that they will take time out of their day to argue that he's actually better than Payton Manning, the NFL's only five-time MVP and a consensus pick for one of the top QBs of all-time by those in the industry.
My Twitter account can prove the latter.
He's the underappreciated architect of the most important play in franchise history, the strip-sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII on a balky ankle that ultimately required surgery and caused him to tweak a hamstring in the game due to favoring it. He's also one of the best two-way defensive ends in football, a staple in ProFootballFocus.com's top-10 grades at the position, and the player head coach Doug Pederson called the "heart and soul" of the Eagles during the offseason.
“With his energy every single day and what he brings to the defense, what he brings from a leadership standpoint to our team, it's pretty impressive," the coach explained. "... He is the heart and soul of this football team."
The best evidence of that is behind the scenes, things that fans can't see like the famous laugh that can't help but make others smile during what is always a grind.
Then there's the famous energy. At 31 and about to enter his 10th NFL season, Graham is first to almost every defensive drill, way ahead of every 22-year-old that comes through the door at the NovaCare Complex. And if B.G is ever beaten, it's by the team's other defensive leader, another old-head in 31-year-old Malcolm Jenkins.
There's a famous cliche among football coaches that has trickled down to youth football: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.”
When talent does work hard? Well, look out and that more than anything defines the success of players like Graham and Jenkins, who are trying to teach the next generation to mesh the talent with a work ethic to match.
No Eagles fan should need another reason to love Graham and most don't but there's at least a small minority that points to a sack column that has never reached double digits and throws out uneducated criticisms of overpaid and overrated. They long for the younger Jadeveon Clowney because he's a bigger name even though it comes with a bigger price tag and Clowney has also never hit 10 sacks, topping out at 9 1/2 so far just like Graham.
So maybe the way to those hearts is pointing out that Graham was the first to tell Foles to try acupuncture for the chronic elbow pain that had the Super Bowl MVP thinking about walking off into the sunset after helping to secure the Lombardi Trophy.
“Nick was going to retire the year he won the Super Bowl,” Graham explained at his locker on Tuesday in advance of the Eagles preseason matchup with Foles' Jaguars. “You know, because his elbow and everything. He just felt like his elbow wasn’t getting better. He started doing acupuncture. He started doing some stuff that ended up helping him.”
And who recommended the acupuncture?
“I was like, ‘man, how you doing, just checking up,’” Graham recalled. “I remember him saying that he was going to retire after the year because his elbow was messed up. I just went to him and said, ‘you should try acupuncture just to see if it makes you feel better.’ He ended up trying it and it made him feel a little better and then it started progressing."
Foles now has his own big-money deal and team in Jacksonville where he has been reunited with John DeFilippo, the Jags' offensive coordinator and former Eagles' QB coach who was given much of the credit for revamping the team's offense post-Carson Wentz ACL injury to better suit Foles in 2017.
“I think there's definitely familiarity there,” Pederson said. “One of the things that Flip knows is exactly how Nick thinks, how he plays, his style, having gone through it for seven, eight games there at the end of the year. And it is a benefit for a coordinator, a play-caller and a quarterback to be together again or at least for a long period of time. ... so, it's a positive.”
And none of it would have happened for Foles without Graham nurturing things on and off the field.
“Look at him now,” Graham smiled. “Won the Super Bowl. Got him a nice fat contract. That’s my favorite story.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen