At least one good thing came out of 2020.
Brandon Graham, the team's longest-tenured player on defense and beloved Super Bowl hero, earned his first Pro Bowl nomination, the league announced on Monday evening. Graham is not alone as he's joined by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and center Jason Kelce.
"This is that much more special to me because I know how much work was put in years before and even this year, knowing that my time is almost running out. It's on me to go out and do it. We went out there and did it," Graham said over the phone earlier this afternoon.
The 32-year-old Graham, in his 11th season with the Eagles, leads the team with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2020.
"I got a real level of appreciation for making it because I know it's not easy. You know, being an alternate is cool, but you have to hope that people back out. For this one to be outright, in a year where there's no alternates because there's no game because of COVID, to get that call, I really appreciate this," Graham said. "We worked our butts off this whole offseason and during the season. To get that call is going to boost me even more for the next two games to try to go make it happen and get into these playoffs."
Graham said he was perusing the final Pro Bowl fan vote totals earlier on Monday morning. When he saw that Washington's Chase Young led all NFC defensive ends, Graham admitted that he second-guessed himself and started to think that it wasn't going to be his year. About 10 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Head Coach Doug Pederson. Graham thought something was wrong. Why was Coach Pederson reaching out?
"Hey, BG! Congrats on making the Pro Bowl!" Pederson said.
After hanging up, Graham called his wife, Carlyne, to tell her the good news. Graham said that she was screaming with joy.
"This was for us. There's no Super Bowl strip-sack without her. She allows me to focus. She makes sure the kids are good, that I'm good," Graham said. "All this hard work I put in this offseason, not missing a day, it's all worth it for that one phone call right there."
First-round pick. Longest-tenured player on defense. Super Bowl hero. Team captain. Now, Graham can add Pro Bowl defensive end to the résumé.
Inside the NovaCare Complex, there are walls that pay tribute to the greatest moments in franchise history. Graham is in several of those pictures. But he was missing from the Pro Bowl wall that honors all of the franchise greats.
"That's the last wall I needed to get on," said Graham laughing, which is no surprise to anyone who is around him for more than a few moments. "I'm just happy that I kept going because it wasn't easy man. It was tough, hearing the bust label to a new coach with Chip Kelly coming in, new scheme, having to adjust to the 3-4 scheme, kind of out of position a little bit, but I made it happen. Doug came at a crucial point in my career and got me back to my roots in the 4-3.
"For my first one (Pro Bowl selection), I'm happy it happened the way it did. I just wanted to take full advantage of it while I still feel like I'm in my prime. My best got me in and I'm thankful for that."
Earlier this year, Graham set the franchise record for most games played by a defensive lineman (now 157). He is tied for third among all NFL defensive ends with 46 consecutive regular-season starts. His 58 career sacks are fourth most in Eagles history. Graham was previously a Pro Bowl alternate in 2016 when he led the league in combined sacks, hurries, and QB knockdowns. He followed that up with a career-high 9.5 sacks in the Super Bowl year. Last season, he set a career high with 18 tackles for loss.
Graham also thanked his defensive linemates for the honor. For Cox, it's his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl nomination. That's tied for the second-longest Pro Bowl streak in franchise history, one behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White. The six overall nominations are tied for fifth among all players in Eagles history. Kelce set the franchise record for most Pro Bowl selections by a center with four. It's his second in a row.
"The leaders of this team right now. We've got the C's (captain's patch) on our chest. We all made it," Graham said of Cox's and Kelce's nominations. "I'm just thankful because I know it's not easy at all. It's not given. There are so many great players in this league."