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Graham remains driven by game he loves

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Jimmy Graham doesn't plan to reflect on everything he's accomplished during his illustrious NFL career until he ultimately retires from the game.

But the Bears tight end conceded Monday that one thing he achieved in last Thursday's win over the Lions was extra special.

With a 17-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, Graham increased his career TD total to 83, eclipsing receiver Reggie Wayne's 82 for the most by a University of Miami alum in the NFL.

"To me, that's unbelievable," Graham said. "To be a part of the legacy like that at the 'U,' to pass Reggie, is unheard of for myself, a guy who was playing basketball and then was given an opportunity."

Graham played basketball for four seasons at Miami, earning his degree in May 2009. He enrolled in graduate classes and joined the football team for one season, catching 17 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns.

A promising but raw prospect, Graham had just one objective when he entered the NFL with the Saints as a third-round draft pick in 2010.

"I just wanted to give everything I had and I knew in doing that, I would have no regrets," Graham said.

That strategy worked to perfection. Twelve seasons later, the former college basketball player is on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Graham has caught 705 passes for 8,437 yards and is one of only three tight ends in NFL history with at least 700 catches, 8,000 yards and 80 TDs. The other two, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, are already enshrined in Canton.

Asked about his success, Graham said: "I think a lot of it was really the people around me who helped me get there, guys like Drew Brees, guys like Sean Payton, who saw a lot in me when I was pretty raw, and then obviously just an extreme focus and dedication that has really controlled my life for a long time. I know in the end I'll have no regrets because I've sacrificed. I haven't been on vacation in seven years. I truly have sacrificed everything."

Graham will have plenty of time to reflect on his accomplishments later in life. But until then, his focus remains on helping the Bears win football games.

"I don't really reflect on a lot of those things," Graham said. "I just live game-to-game, day-to-day. I think it will be something that I reflect back on once it's finally over for me and I can look back at all the people I played with, all the memories I had and all the games I helped win. Right now, I'm just focusing on myself, my guys and my body, [to] make sure I'm available when my number's called."

Graham's number hasn't been called as much this season as it was last year; he has just six receptions for 98 yards and one TD in 2021 after catching 50 passes for 456 yards and a team-leading eight TDs in 2020. But he's not going to fret or complain about his role in the Bears' offense.

"I just focus on what I can control, and what I can control is how I affect the guys in my room, the guys on offense and bring the juice for the guys on defense," Graham said. "I think that I'll always be a leader in that aspect. My ability to share the knowledge that I've been given to pass it on to Cole [Kmet], to pass it on to our young guys, pass it on to Moon (Darnell Mooney), pass it on to our young quarterback (Justin Fields), it's something I take pride in. I do take pride in a lot of that."

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