RENTON — “Who the (expletive) is Jimmy?”
One-time Seahawks linebacker and first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin asked that now-infamous and comedic query Jan. 11, 2014, in a memorable dust-up before a playoff game with the New Orleans Saints at then-Qwest Field.
The Jimmy in question was, of course, Jimmy Graham, who was an All-Pro, touchdown-catching machine of a tight end and would become Irvin’s teammate a year later.
But on that chilly Saturday, Graham was warming up and catching passes on the Seahawks’ side of the field, which did not please Irvin or his teammates. They confronted Graham and not-so-politely asked him to vacate the area.
Graham responded: “I’m Jimmy.”
Finding that explanation insufficient, Irvin offered up his rather explicit question, knocked the football out of Graham’s hands and kicked it toward the stands. The act started a minor tussle that was soon broken up but was caught by cameras and replayed over and over.
It’s unlikely there will be another “Who’s Jimmy?” moment before Sunday’s playoff game vs. Graham and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Irvin hasn’t worn a Seahawks uniform in years, and a handful of current Seahawks know all about their former teammate, his prodigious talent and the danger he presents in the Packers’ passing game.
Sunday will be just the second time that Graham has played against the Seahawks after becoming a free agent and the first playoff game since the “I’m Jimmy” game, where he had one catch for just 8 yards.
“He’s one of my best friends,” said Seahawks tight end Luke Willson. “We have a text thread, but it’s not much talk about football. Mostly sharing Instagram videos we think are funny.”
While he’s still a friend, he’s also the opponent.
“I’m going to try to hit him, 100%,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner. “I’m going to try to hit him a lot. If he tries to box me out, he thinks he’s good at basketball, he knows I’ll beat him.”
Graham hasn’t been quite the presence expected when he signed with Green Bay before the 2018 season.
“He’s been really solid,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s got 38 catches and been solid. I think he’s got five touchdowns, is it five touchdowns?”
Well, actually, it’s only three touchdowns.
“So, not as much as maybe as they would or we liked,” Carroll said. “Last time we had him, he caught 10 touchdown passes for us and we worked him a lot in the red zone.”
Indeed, in Graham’s last season with the Seahawks, he had 57 catches for 520 yards with 10 touchdowns while making the Pro Bowl. In 43 games for the Seahawks, he amassed 170 catches for 2,048 yards with 18 touchdowns despite suffering a dislocated patella in the 11th game of the 2015 season. He returned the next season to make the Pro Bowl while amassing 923 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
With the Packers’ new offense under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur and an emphasis on the run game, Graham’s numbers this season aren’t eye-popping, even with a depleted wide-receiver corps due to injury.
He has 38 catches for 447 yards with the three touchdowns in 16 games. His last touchdown grab came Oct. 20 vs. the Raiders in what was Green Bay’s seventh game of the season.
“I think Jimmy, there’s a lot of good things he’s done this year for us,” LaFleur said. “His numbers don’t always reflect how important he is to us in terms of how we’ve been spreading the ball around, but he is a big part of what we do.”
In his last six games, he’s tallied just one catch in four of them. And yet, the Seahawks won’t discount his presence. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s the 24th-rated tight end in the NFL.
“He’s always there, though,” Carroll said. “He’s such a monster of a player and athlete that you just know he can make things happen, so we’ll give him a lot of respect.”
It’s more than just respect. The Seahawks have been less-than-stellar in pass defense vs. tight ends this season. They’ve given up 97 receptions for 1,099 yards to opposing tight ends — the second-most in the NFL in each category. Wagner knows what the Packers will try to do to exploit the Seahawks’ glaring weakness.
“He’s a big guy, so you try to get him up on matchups and things of that nature,” Wagner said. “When he is kind of closer to the core, he is such a good route runner and things like that, you don’t expect him to block too much. It’s not too different than what we seen when he was here, what we seen when he was with the Saints. He is a great receiving tight end, so they are going to find ways to get him the ball and get him in matchups that they feel are in their favor.”
And while quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams are the Packers offense’s main producers and obvious focal points to slow down, the Seahawks don’t want to let Graham remind them of “Who’s Jimmy?” with a big game and instead leave the Packers wondering “Where was Jimmy?”