Brandon Graham, back home in Michigan with his family these days, put a lot more thought into his recent decision to work out with new Eagles teammate Darius Slay than Graham would have invested, say, three months ago.
“I don’t want to live in fear, but I am gonna be smart about it, you know, coming out [of quarantine],” says Graham, who has seen three older people he knew contract COVID-19, two of whom died. “I know he’s been quarantining and doing the right thing. It’s all about trusting and making sure that you do what you can, because we both have kids.”
Graham, speaking with reporters Thursday evening via Zoom, said his father’s sister survived the virus. His grandmother’s sister, on Graham’s dad’s side, got it and did not survive. Then, most abruptly, the wife of his father’s close friend, “who was like an auntie to me,” also succumbed.
“She was a close friend of the family. That was really tough, because she went from talking to us every day to no response, and then, one day later, she’s gone,” he said. “It got bad real fast. That’s still tough. Me and my dad were talking about it earlier [Thursday]. … You gotta keep pressing and keep going. … It’s just tough for the family right now.”
The illnesses all happened several weeks back, in Graham’s native Detroit area. Graham, 32, and his wife, Carlyne, considered packing up their two children and heading back to Philly, but this area has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. They decided to stay put and wait it out.
Graham and his wife sometimes work out together; he said she has impressed him with her toughness. “It’s only brought us closer,” he said.
They have contributed cheesesteaks to hospital workers in Philadelphia, other sandwiches to workers in Detroit. “We just wanted to do something,” said Graham, who credited Carlyne with the idea. “It might have been small, but it definitely boosted morale, probably.”
Like the rest of this, Graham struggles to comprehend how his world has changed, is changing, will change.
“I’m going to trust that the NFL, when they say it’s time to go [back to work], that they really [are working] for our best interest … for us to have some sort of normal[cy] about this situation," he said. "When they say they did all their homework and things are looking better — yeah, it’s going to be some timidness, not a lot of ‘bro hugs.’ We ain’t gonna do too much, but … I just feel like you’ve got to trust that everybody is doing the right things, trying to help this situation.”
Graham said he was “locked up in the house” and didn’t really want to do anything for a while, as reports surfaced about fellow NFL edge rusher Von Miller and other athletes contracting the virus. But, ultimately, he and his family “started just going by the guidelines of what everybody was asking us to do.”
If you watched the All or Nothing series on the Eagles filmed last season, you know that Graham is a garrulous, upbeat, highly social player who bumps every fist, shakes every hand, and slaps every shoulder pad he comes across on the Eagles’ sideline. Interacting with teammates and coaches via the internet has been different.
“It’s cool. It’s how you make it, I feel like,” said Graham, who makes sure to have pen and paper in hand during virtual position meetings. He said that coaches sometimes don’t have much to impart on a given day, they “just want to see us, kind of have a roll call, talk to us for a second. … Keeping us connected on what the message is and what we’re trying to do. We’ll be ready when the time comes.”
Thursday brought an unexpected face to Graham’s screen. The Eagles arranged for former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson to address the team remotely. Graham said Jackson didn’t say anything he hadn’t heard before — stuff such as, know your role and do the best you can with it — but “it was just cool because that’s a legend right there.”
Asked about possibly playing in empty stadiums this fall, Graham said he figures it will be more like those preseason scrimmages with other teams, complete with trash talking.
“I just think you’re going to hear a lot of riff-raff, a lot of stuff on the sidelines that you don’t normally hear,” he said. “it’s going to be a little different, but we’re going to adjust and make it happen.”
Graham, now the longest-tenured Eagle, doesn’t seem to be obsessing over lost spring work at NovaCare.
“This is a time that we get to spend a lot of time with our families, that we normally don’t get,” he said. “You try to look at the positives of it. Me, I’ve been trying to read a lot more, trying to pick up better habits on different things, and just working on me. Trying to use this time wisely.”