Roughly, Bran­don Gra­ham play­ing to stick around for a while

The Review - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery

If it weren’t for what he’d al­ready known, Bran­don Gra­ham might have lin­gered in the Linc Sun­day, taken one more look around the locker room, maybe stayed an­other minute in a sta­dium that by then had gone quiet.

If it weren’t for what he’d ex­pe­ri­enced, and what he be­lieves he can ex­pe­ri­ence again, he would have felt a twinge of me­lan­choly.

If the Ea­gles weren’t cham­pi­ons al­ready, and if they had not main­tained their chance to be so again with a 32-30 vic­tory over the Hous­ton Tex­ans, it may have hit him that it was all about to be over. All. All of it.

A hero in Su­per Bowl LII, a dif­fer­ence-maker Sun­day in a sur­vival test, his spot in the fran­chise honor roll all but a given, the de­fen­sive end will be a free agent when­ever the sea­son ends. It could end in Washington, where the Ea­gles will play this week­end. It could end af­ter a play­off game. It could end, as he has been con­di­tioned to be­lieve, on the top step of the Art Mu­seum.

“Man, I’ve been lov­ing it,” Gra­ham said of his Ea­gles ca­reer, its ninth year tick­ing away. “And it’s not over yet.”

It’s not over yet, but it’s close. The Ea­gles can­not win the NFC East, be­cause that’s what the Cow­boys did Sun­day. They can win a wild-card play­off spot, but even with a vic­tory in Washington they will need Min­nesota to lose in Week 17, at home, against the Bears. All Gra­ham knew Sun­day was that his team was 2:04 from elim­i­na­tion and that Nick Foles, with one play of re­lief from Nate Sud­feld, re­sponded with an 11-play, 72-yard, game-win­ning drive, de­fined by Jake El­liott’s 35yard field goal at the fi­nal whis­tle.

All he knew is that the cham­pi­ons played like cham­pi­ons at a time when there was no other op­tion.

All he knew was that the cham­pi­onship in­stilled some­thing in the Ea­gles, a con­fi­dence, an ex­pec­ta­tion of great­ness that would not eas­ily be cleansed.

“Yep,” he said. “Es­pe­cially when you keep a ma­jor­ity of your guys who went to the cham­pi­onship last year. You kind of know that it’s never over and you have to prac­tice hard and you have to stay pre­pared. And I think we do a good job of stay­ing pre­pared for these games. Some­times, the out­come is the out­come. But over­all, we give our­selves a chance to win ev­ery week be­cause of the way Doug (Ped­er­son) and those guys keep us pre­pared.”

They keep the Ea­gles pre­pared, and they keep them ag­gres­sive. At one point Sun­day, that com­bi­na­tion caused un­nec­es­sary stress, as with 1:42 left in the first half, Gra­ham mus­cled through the Hous­ton line and ap­peared to cleanly jolt quar­ter­back De­shaun Watkins. But the of­fi­cials flagged him for rough­ing the passer at a cost of 15 yards, and Hous­ton was able to flip that good for­tune into a go-ahead touch­down, just be­fore half­time.

“What did he tell me?” Gra­ham said of the ref, as if try­ing to re­mem­ber. “He told me that I hit him in the shoul­der-neck area. That’s what he said. On the hit. It wasn’t the ‘body-weight’ call. It is what it is. They made the call.” Smil­ing, laugh­ing, Gra­ham said he had some give-and-take with the of­fi­cials. “We did have fun with it. We can’t con­trol what they do. All I can do is look for­ward to the next play. And that’s what we did. And we came out with a W.”

The Ea­gles have eight of those and will need at least nine. If not, Gra­ham’s Ea­gles ca­reer, which be­gan in the first round of the 2010 draft three coaches ago likely will end. Howie Rose­man could move to bring him back, but he did make de­fen­sive end Derek Barnett his first-round pick in 2017. And last year, Rose­man in­vested a fourth-round pick on de­fen­sive end Josh Sweat.

And as for Gra­ham, whose jar­ring hit of Tom Brady with 2:16 left in the Su­per Bowl forced a fum­ble and es­sen­tially sealed a cham­pi­onship, he has yet to have been re-re­cruited. But no mat­ter what hap­pens Sun­day or be­yond, he will have been ce­mented in fran­chise lore, not that he doesn’t have time to add to the story.

“I think it’s cool, be­cause we’re hit­ting our stride at the right time,” he said. “All we have to do is get in. The sky is the limit on what we can do. We’re just fo­cus­ing in for one week and win­ning. And then, we’ll fig­ure it out for the next week.”

That’s why Gra­ham cel­e­brated so vig­or­ously when El­liott swished the game-win­ner, ex­tend­ing the Ea­gles’ hopes, if not nec­es­sar­ily his own ca­reer.

“I went crazy,” he said. “It wasn’t the ‘60-yard’ crazy. But it was cool to get a W.”

Even if the Ea­gles do reach the play­offs, they will not have a home game. So the Linc won’t be open for pro foot­ball un­til next sum­mer, when the pre­sea­son be­gins. At var­i­ous times in his Ea­gles ca­reer, Gra­ham has been dis­missed as too small. At age 30, if he is not re-signed, the dropped hints will be be­cause he was too old.

“We don’t know what the fu­ture holds, but I’m ex­cited, be­cause we just keep fight­ing,” he said. “And hope­fully we can ex­tend this thing a lit­tle more.”

With that, he turned to the locker room door. A cham­pion, he looked for­ward, not back.

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