Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham said the rehab process from a knee injury was humbling and also gave him a renewed appreciation for football.
For a guy who once gained renown for being fined by the NFL for dunking a football over the goalposts after scoring a touchdown, having to figure out how to again simply put one foot in front of another brought emotions Jimmy Graham had never before experienced.
“It’s very humbling, that’s for sure,’’ Graham said Wednesday after finally returning to the practice field with the Seattle Seahawks.
His return came a little less than nine months after Graham tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in the fourth quarter of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Nov. 29 (or, as Graham Tweeted later Wednesday, 253 days)
Graham, who had not spoken to the media at-large since the injury, said “when you look down at your knee and you don’t see your kneecap, you know something is wrong.’’
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He had surgery four days later, and then had his leg immobilized for roughly three months, the beginning of a rehab process that Graham — who had previously had just one surgery in his life, on a wrist in 2013 — said was tougher than he could have ever imagined.
“There were some dark days,’’ Graham said. “I’ve never been through something that every day you had to do something for it. You know, every day you wake up and until you go to bed you’re doing some type of rehab and it’s been like that for me for eight months and it will continue to be like that for me for the next eight months. You know, it’s something that I’m always going to have to pay attention to and you know, it’s a part of life now. It makes me appreciate the game even more than I did. Just being out there today you know, I’m full of passion, full of fire and I can feel – I get goosebumps just walking out of that door. So it was a great day.”
Graham became the second marquee Seahawks player in two days to make his return to the field following a devastating injury the year before — running back Thomas Rawls returned on Tuesday after suffering a broken and dislocated ankle last December.
Like Rawls, Graham will be eased into action slowly. He took part in early individual and position drills, but then watched from the sidelines during the 11-on-11 team portion of practice.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, though, said Graham’s mere presence “uplifts the whole team. Particularly to have a guy like Thomas back, a guy like Jimmy back. It picks up everybody, picks their spirits up as well.’’
As with Rawls, though, it remains unclear exactly when Graham will return to game competition.
Bevell said again that the team expects both Graham and Rawls to be ready for the regular season opener Sept. 11 against Miami, saying “as long as things continue to go the way that they are, then we feel good about it.’’
Graham was more vague, saying he had no timeline, and later intriguingly answering a question about whether he had any doubts he will be ready for the Miami game by saying “I can’t really answer that. I’m not allowed to answer that.’’
Graham largely stressed the power of patience in his rehab, something he said was reinforced in a conversation he had with New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz suffered a similar injury in 2014 and then suffered a calf injury last season that he later said was due in part to overcompensating from the patellar injury.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t want to rush it back,’’ Graham said. “You want to take your time and come back when you are ready.’’
Some observers have referenced Cruz’s struggles to return to his prior form to wonder if Graham will be able to quickly become the receiving threat he was for the first six years of his career.
Graham, though, said he isn’t worried about issues other players have had coming back from the same injury.
“I don’t think about how other guys have been or what it has done to other guys,’’ he said. “I think I’m a little different. And I’m still fast, which is real good.’’
Graham, who had lined up wide right, was injured at the end of a go route as he reached for a pass from Russell Wilson in the end zone.
“I honestly haven’t watched the film,’’ Graham said. “I probably never will. Coming off the sideline getting back out there, being kind of stiff and being 275 at the time running go routes, probably not the smartest thing. I’ve lost some weight and I’ll be ready this time, that’s for sure.’’
Graham said he is now down to 260 pounds (with the team officially listing him at 265).
The injury ended what was a first season in Seattle that began with high expectations following the blockbuster trade from New Orleans that brought him to town, and ended with not only the injury but much discussion about how he had been used. He had 48 receptions for 605 yards and two touchdowns at the time of his injury.
The Seahawks rallied to beat the Steelers in the game in which Graham was injured part of a streak of six wins in seven games to end the year that got Seattle back in the playoffs, during which Wilson also went on a historic passing tear, with 24 touchdowns against just one interception.
Graham said having to watch the Seahawks the rest of the year “was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever been through.’’
The rehab — which Graham said included running 36 50-yard dashes every day — was hardly easier.
“Randomly you’ll feel good for weeks and then all of a sudden you’ll have a bad day where you’re really sore,’’ he said. “You end up questioning yourself like, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Why is this so hard?’ Especially for me in my career, I felt like a lot of things have come easy. I’ve always just been athletic and fast. To have to learn how to walk again, it’s very humbling.’’
Graham said the support of players such as Wilson (Graham was in Wilson’s wedding party) and cornerback Richard Sherman “just uplifted me the entire time.’’
And while Graham wasn’t ready to predict when he would return, he did say this story will eventually have a happy ending.
“I can’t wait for that first touchdown,’’ he said. “That will probably be the sweetest moment for me, to overcome this.’’