Jimmy Graham made a sensational one-handed touchdown reception as time expired in last year's wild card playoff game against the Saints.
It wasn't, however, how the veteran tight end wanted his first season with the Bears to end—with a meaningless TD that turned a blowout into an only slightly more respectable 21-9 loss to his former team.
After hauling in the 19-yard pass, Graham immediately jogged into the tunnel and headed to the locker room. Some felt the dramatic exit was his way of conveying that he planned to end his playing career after 11 seasons.
On the first day of Bears minicamp Tuesday, Graham revealed that he did briefly contemplate retirement following the playoff loss, but he decided to continue playing after speaking to general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.
"I certainly did [consider retiring] for a second there, for a little bit, [but] I've got a lot of unfinished business," said Graham, who spent his first five NFL seasons with the Saints from 2010-14. "It was very difficult for me to go back in the dome and especially to lose. I'm a pretty fiery person. I'm a pretty enthusiastic person. And I hate losing, simple as that.
"It was a lot of frustration there because I haven't won a ring, and that's all I think about. So just knowing that it's another year, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. But I talked to Ryan and I talked to Matt, and I'm on board and I'm ready to do whatever it takes to get back in that position and to move forward and hopefully to make a run."
Graham is one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history, ranking fourth all-time at the position with 82 touchdown receptions and sixth with 699 receiving yards. But the 34-year-old has never reached the Super Bowl—despite playing with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers.
"Jimmy's done a lot of things individually," Nagy said. "He's scored a lot of touchdowns. He's been playing with a lot of great quarterbacks. He's been in great offenses. He's won a lot of games. 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. That's the only thing he cares about.
"So for him to decide to come back here and to continue to play, he's not doing it for records. He's not doing it because he just wants to play a little bit more or get one more year in. He's doing it because he believes that 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—in the classroom, at practice and on game day—that is just worth every penny."
Graham proved his worth last season, leading the Bears with eight touchdown receptions while also mentoring the team's top draft pick, rookie tight end Cole Kmet.
"We're super excited to be able to get him back here and continue to know kind of what his role's going to be now in this offense," Nagy said of Graham. "[He's] one of my favorite players I've ever coached. I've learned a lot from him, and I just love his mentality and think we're lucky to have him."
A workout warrior, Graham only decided to return to play in 2021 after determining that his body was up for the challenge.
"I feel like I can still be used and I can still be a weapon and I can still be a leader for this team," Graham said, "and help these young kids to make a run and to share some of my knowledge of what been through in this league and the wins and the lessons I've learned."
“He wants to win the Super Bowl. That’s the only thing he cares about.” Bears coach Matt Nagy on tight end Jimmy Graham
Following a strict training and diet regimen has helped Graham stay on the field; the 6-7, 260-pounder has played in 169 of a possible 176 regular-season games in his career. Since missing five contests with the Seahawks in 2015, he has appeared in all 16 games each of the past five seasons.
"I've been in the right training program for a long time now," Graham said. "I've been doing the same thing for the last 12 years. I'm certainly blessed about [avoiding injuries]. I know I'm particularly weird about all the things that I eat. I'm pretty obsessed with that, what I put into my body, how I treat my body ...
"I'm going to continue to keep doing the things that have put me in this position to be going into Year 12 and still have the ability to run and catch. I'm truly blessed to be here and looking forward to trying to make a run this year."
Get a look at Bears players participating in the club's annual photo shoot at Halas Hall.