LAKE FOREST – Most of us who love football have dreamt at one time or another about being as lucky as say Bears tight end Jimmy Graham. To be so blessed physically at 6-7, 265 pounds, able to run a 4.45 40-yard dash and to have used those gifts to cobble together a near Hall-of-Fame run over an 11-year career.
But today Graham is just lucky to be alive.
Many of you have either heard or read that Graham was involved in a rollover car accident a few months back, but it wasn’t until I asked him to share the details with us Tuesday at the first day of the Bears mandatory minicamp that it became clear just how blessed he is.
“I was on the turnpike and I saw a cop kind of going down this off-ramp with his lights on and he was reversing, so I got over two lanes and the sun’s kind of coming up,” Graham explained. “As I go over the hill I’m looking at the cop and there’s a disabled vehicle in the center lane and I’m going about 90.”
“So I swerve to the left and barely miss him, but I was headed toward a bridge, so I had to make kind of a last-minute decision and I decided to just turn right and flip it. And I ended up rolling, the cop said ‘about four times.’ The cop was there immediately and I’m just kind of, you know, sparks and glass were going everywhere, and I’m just sitting there in the seat belt.
“I get out of the seat belt and now I’m on the roof and I’m just kind of hollering for my dog and I don’t hear her (a Vizsla named Ginger). So then I get out and she’s in the back and we just walked away. It was a wild one.”
I asked Graham if his life flashed before him.
“It’s kind of weird. It really felt like a game. Everything was really slow,” he said. “I can remember making every decision. I can actually remember my phone floating up in the air, I could see the time. I just knew it wasn’t my time.”
As a youngster Graham had to wonder if his time would ever come.
Graham had an extremely difficult childhood. He’s never met his biological father and at 11 his mother put him in a group home where older kids often beat him.
In high school a church youth counselor, who eventually adopted him, took him in, and Graham became a high school and college basketball star.
He not only graduated from the University of Miami (Fla.), he earned a double major in marketing and management.
Early in his NFL career he was often quiet, sometimes appearing sullen, and he had a few unfortunate incidents with the media.
While he doesn’t speak often he’s been great with Bears media since arriving in town and I asked him if his attitude toward the media changed or if he has?
“Yeah, you know I’ve been through a lot,” Graham said. “A lot has changed in my career; I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I think sometimes that had an effect on my dealing with the media on some things that happened younger in my career, where I guess my voice wasn’t being heard and really truth wasn’t being given.
“It kind of affected me personally and it pissed me off, so I think some of those things had the effect of me feeling like I’m not really heard.”
Bears head coach Matt Nagy believes in just one year Graham has become one of his most valuable players.
“I think it’s important to everybody to understand one thing: Jimmy’s done a lot of things as an individual, right? He’s scored a lot of touchdowns. He’s won a lot of games,” Nagy said. “But I say this and I mean this: This guy cares about one thing and one thing only — and that’s that trophy. He wants to win the Super Bowl.
“So for him to decide to come back here and continue to play, he’s doing it because he believes we have the ability to be really good. He knows that. And he is a valuable, valuable piece of this offense in so many different ways.”
It’s hard not to wonder if he’s had someone looking over his shoulder all these years to make sure he gets at least one more crack at that ring this fall.