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First meeting with Urlacher left Graham speechless


BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Corey Graham will never forget the first time he met Brian Urlacher.

Their paths initially crossed on Graham's first day at Halas Hall after being selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of New Hampshire. By then, Urlacher had become the face of the franchise after being named NFL defensive rookie of the year in 2000 and the league's defensive player of the year in 2005.

"My first time coming to Halas Hall I was walking down a hallway and Brian Urlacher knew me by name," said Graham, now a safety with the Philadelphia Eagles who will play in Sunday's Super Bowl. "I'm walking by and he says, 'Hey, Corey, how you doing?' I didn't respond I was so shocked. Honestly, as a fifth-round pick from New Hampshire, I never expected it.

"He knew me by name, called me by name from the first day I got there. That meant a lot to me just seeing how a guy of that stature went out of his way to know exactly who was there and who was on the team. He was an amazing guy from the beginning."

Graham is in his first season with the Eagles after spending 10 years with the Bears (2007-11), Ravens (2012-13) and Bills (2014-16). He attributes his longevity in part to the lessons he learned as a rookie from Urlacher, who played 13 NFL seasons.

"He told me how to take care of my body; hot tub, cold tub, contrast," Graham said. "He was the reason why I've probably been in the league this long because I've been taking care of my body from the beginning because of him. My rookie year he kind of took me under his wing and helped me out."

Playing his first five NFL seasons with Urlacher is one of the highlights of Graham's career, which includes a Super Bowl championship with the Ravens in 2012.

"It was amazing," Graham said. "He was an amazing guy and an amazing teammate. He's one of those guys that gets everybody lined up, makes all the checks. And he was even a better person.

"You know how people talk about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and those type of guys? He's that of the defense. He knows everything that's going to happen. He knows everything the offense is doing. He's going to get you in the right check, make the right adjustments. It's like chess out there and he was great at it. He probably knew what [the opposing offense] was going to do 20-30 plays a game.

"He was so smart, so in-tuned to everything that was going on. He studied so much. There are only a few of those types of guys—guys like Ray Lewis, Urlacher and I would even say Luke Kuechly—when it comes to how smart he is."

Graham was just as impressed with Urlacher's unique combination of size and speed.

"He was so athletic," Graham said. "He played the cover-two system. You're asking the middle linebacker to cover verticals down the middle of the field. You've got Urlacher running down the middle of the field 30-40 yards down the field [covering] receivers.

"How many linebackers are you asking to cover receivers 40 yards down the field? That's the type of athlete, that's the type of player he was. He was a hell of a player. I enjoyed playing with him. I'm grateful to have been with a lot of good players throughout my career and he was definitely one of the top ones."

Graham will be focused on making final preparations for the Super Bowl Saturday night when the Hall of Fame Selection Committee votes in the Class of 2018. But he's convinced that Urlacher—who is one of 15 modern-era finalists—will get the call.

"He deserves it and I think he'll get in," Graham said. "He's definitely one of the top linebackers to ever play this game. He's a heck of a football player, a heck of a person and I see no reason why he wouldn't get in on his first shot."

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