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Didinger: Brandon Graham's long, hard climb to a championship-defining play

As part of the celebration of the NFL's 100th season, the Eaglesare asking fans to votefor one of four plays as the greatest moment in franchise history. The play with the most votes will be revealed during the club's Fantennial Weekend this upcoming season. This top play, as voted on by the fans, will then be entered into a league-wide vote to identify the NFL's Greatest Moment. The final nominee, Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII.

You wouldn't expect a game that produced 1,131 yards of total offense, an NFL record, to include a defensive highlight. Super Bowl LII was a showcase of explosive plays, one after another, engineered by quarterbacks Nick Foles and Tom Brady, who passed for a combined 874 yards.

But there was a defensive moment that will be celebrated forever by Eagles fans. It was Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Brady that was a pivotal play in the Eagles' 41-33 upset of the New England Patriots. It was the Eagles' only sack of the game but it came at just the right time.

The Eagles had just taken a 38-33 lead on Foles' pass to tight end Zach Ertz but there was 2:21 still left on the clock, more than enough time for Brady to mount another game-winning touchdown drive and add to his Hall of Fame legacy. He might have done it, too, if Graham didn't make the biggest play of his NFL career.

"All game we were one step away from Brady, but he kept getting the ball out," Graham said. "He started making some plays but we didn't get frustrated. We just kept coming. We knew sooner or later something was going to open up."

It was something Graham talked about in the days leading up to the game. He had the utmost respect for Brady, a fellow Michigan alum who had won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback in NFL history. Graham said the key to playing against Brady was patience and persistence.

"He always knows where he is going (with the ball) and he is not going to beat himself," Graham said. "We just have to keep coming and not get frustrated when we don't get there. 'Keep coming' is what we talk about."

Prior to that drive, Brady had thrown 39 passes and the Eagles didn't sack him once. Graham said the "keep coming" mantra was repeated over and over in the defensive huddle.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made a key adjustment on that critical series. He moved Graham from his normal end position to tackle. Schwartz thought Graham could use his quickness inside to pressure Brady. The move matched Graham against New England guard Shaq Mason. Graham beat Mason off the ball and hit Brady as he tried to step up in the pocket. The ball popped loose and Derek Barnett recovered the fumble.

Four plays later, Jake Elliott kicked a 46-yard field goal to give the Eagles an eight-point lead and they hung on from there to win the game and set off an all-night party in the streets of Philadelphia.

Fletcher Cox, who lined up at tackle next to Graham on that play, felt moving Graham inside was a great call by Schwartz.

"It's different than playing defensive end," Cox said. "I told (Graham) everything happens quicker (at tackle). Guards aren't as big but they are more athletic. There's not a lot of space in there, but he took advantage of it.

"That's the thing about having an end line up at tackle. Brandon was able to use his speed and switch things up on the guard. It's uncomfortable for (guards) to block a smaller guy like Brandon. The play on Brady was a big play. We needed a stop there and he got it."

"We were this close to a world championship," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "There was no doubt we were going to get that stop. And we knew somebody at the end of this drive is going to be the hero. Just be ready when the time comes. As it turns out, it was B.G."

The Eagles were Super Bowl Champions for the first time and it might not have happened if Graham didn't keep coming. He sees it as a metaphor for his entire career. Persistence has been the key to everything. Growing up on the streets of Detroit, earning a football scholarship to Michigan and a first-round selection in the NFL Draft, then hearing people call him a bust; it was a long, hard climb to his game-saving sack in the Super Bowl.

"It only made it sweeter," Graham said. "To finally experience this makes it all worthwhile."

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for You can read all of hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.

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