I’ve watched the play 1,000 times.
It was something like Brandon Graham’s 40th pass rush of the game, and the first 39 didn’t result in anything but frustration – Tom Brady delivering the ball up and down the field on his way to a playoff-record 505 passing yards.
The next one resulted in a huge piece of Eagles history.
And what amazes me most about B.G.’s Super Bowl strip sack isn’t how it swung momentum back to the Eagles with 2:16 left in Super Bowl LII but just how gosh-darn persistent he was both in that game and on that play.
After 57 ½ minutes coming up empty rushing Brady, he lined up inside on that fateful 2nd-and-2 from the Patriots’ 33-yard-line and beat Patriots right guard Shaq Mason just enough to be able to stick his left hand out as Brady was about to throw and knock the ball loose.
All day, Brady had been getting rid of the ball a split second before B.G. or any of the Eagles’ pass rushers could get there. Graham just put his head down and kept getting after it. All those 35 or 40 unsuccessful rushes did was make him hungrier and even more determined to finally make a play.
And I’ve always seen that play, that historic play in the Eagles’ only championship in the last 60 years as a metaphor for B.G.’s career.
No matter how many times he failed, he wasn’t going to stop trying. No matter how many times he came up empty, he was only going to keep pushing harder and harder.
Think about Graham’s career.
He wasn’t a starter until his sixth season. He didn’t have more than 6 ½ sacks until his ninth season. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his 11th season. He didn’t reach double digits in sacks until his 12th season.
For years, he couldn’t leave the house without hearing about Earl Thomas. Without hearing about how he was the next Antone Davis, Jon Harris or Jerome McDougle. Without hearing the words “1st-round bust.”
I’ll never forget talking to B.G. at his locker back in those days and how he swore he would keep working to become the player he knew he could be, to shed that 1st-round bust tag, to make Eagles fans proud of him.
He kept grinding and it just didn’t happen for him. You can’t imagine what he went through those first five years. And he did get discouraged and it did feel hopeless sometimes and he did experience some pretty heavy self-doubt.
I’ll never forget B.G. admitting during one low moment a few years into his career: “I am a bust. I haven’t done anything.”
The thing is, he never blamed anyone else. He never made excuses. He took accountability and he never stopped working, never stopped trying to become the player he believed he could be.
And then it started to turn.
If you want to point to one moment where B.G. finally arrived, look at the 2017 opener against the Commanders, when he sacked Kirk Cousins twice as the Eagles began their Super Bowl run with a 30-17 win at FedEx Field.
That was the start of a bust-out 9 ½-sack season that signaled his arrival as a feared pass rusher seven years after he was drafted.
A few months later, the strip sack made him a legend, and in the years since he’s only added to his legendary status.
B.G. had an 8 ½-sack season in 2019 and 8.0 sacks in his 2020 Pro Bowl year and then at the age of 34 and coming off a blown-out Achilles, a career-high 11 sacks this past year.
He’s the only player in NFL history who didn’t have 8.0 sacks once in his first seven seasons but had 8.0 sacks at least four times the rest of his career.
He’s the only player in history to record his first double-digit sack season this late in his career.
B.G. is an inspiration not just for what a talented football player he is but for what he overcame to get there. He took a path nobody else has ever taken, overcame more adversity than anyone knows and never stopped believing in himself even when nobody else did.
If you had said back in 2012 or 2013 that a decade from now Philadelphia would be celebrating B.G.’s return for a record-tying 14th season in an Eagles uniform people would have said you were crazy, and you would have been.
All the cliches about staying positive and keep trying no matter what, he’s lived them.
We all have. We’re all lucky to have been along for the ride as Brandon Graham has given us lesson after lesson in what it truly means to never give up.