The kicker has two bags that have permanent residence in his car. One contains a bunch of footballs, and the other is for overnight trips to random cities.
Despite being one of the most accurate field-goal kickers in NFL history, Graham had been out of a job for the majority of the 2010 season. The Bengals, with whom Graham played from 2003-09, decided to go with Mike Nugent this season, and then Graham lost a training-camp battle with Billy Cundiff in Baltimore. Graham played one game last month in an emergency basis for the Giants, who briefly lost Lawrence Tynes to injury, but other than that, he had been on the street until the Patriots signed him this week to replace Stephen Gostkowski.
"The fact that I haven’t been on a team every game this year makes me a little hungry," Graham said, "and makes me look forward to getting my career rolling on again, and do what I can to help this team win."
Graham received plenty of calls and had a number of tryouts. Some of them were legitimate. Others were from teams that were curious if Graham could still kick, just in case they needed him later.
So, when a team called, Graham hopped in his car, drove to the airport and boarded the plane. It was a process he had down pat. He'll just point toward a Friday night last month, when he was called by the Giants to show up in time to kick for Sunday (although, Graham missed both field-goal attempts in a 24-14 loss to the Jets).
"When I'm originally called, I literally have a bag packed for an overnight trip," Graham said. "I brought a bag with me just in case. I didn’t really know the extent, and I've even got another box at home ready to be FedEx'd to me with some more goods for me."
Obviously, the kicker is such a specialized position that there are only 32 jobs out there, so when someone like Graham falls out of the league's inner circle, it can be an arduous road to find a way back inside.
And since kickers have such a unique bond with one another — for instance, Gostkowski mentioned earlier this season he received a number of congratulatory messages from his kicking counterparts after he signed a big contract extension — they find it hard to root for injuries or poor performance. Even though, after all, those are the only two circumstances in which a job creates a stir among the unemployment line.
To stay ready, Graham, a Virginia Tech product, would kick at his alma mater, or he'd head to a local soccer field. (That’s where that bag of footballs would come into play.) Sometimes, he had friends who were willing to snap and hold for him, but other times, he'd have to stake the balls up on his own.
Now that he is back in action, though, Graham has to make sure he doesn’t find himself back in those local parks. The Patriots are traveling to Pittsburgh this weekend, and Heinz Field can be a torturous place to play. Graham, though, has converted 9-of-11 field goals in Pittsburgh, and he is one of just two Steelers opponents who has attempted at least 10 field goals at Heinz Field.
In his career, Graham has nailed 196-of-230 field goals, and his 85.2 percent conversion rate ranks sixth all-time (coincidentally, one spot ahead of Gostkowski's 84.3 percentage).
"It's definitely big shoes to fill, but I feel confident that I'm going to be able to play my best," Graham said. "Hopefully, the team won't skip a beat and will continue to perform well."
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