Graham Shares in Joy of Victory Down Under


Graham checks the outcome after the hold

Ben Graham wears the Jets green and white with pride every weekend but in the last week of September, the Jets punter couldn't help but throw on the blue and white stripes of the Geelong Cats.

The Cats, Graham's former team in the Australian Football League, were competing in the Toyota AFL Grand Finals Series. After a first-round pounding of the North Melbourne Kangaroos, 156-50, and edging out the Collingwood Magpies, 92-87, the Cats faced off against the Port Adelaide Power at what's known as Australia's sporting mecca: the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The game was played last Saturday afternoon Down Under, which was late the night before Eastern time, and Graham unfortunately missed perhaps the most celebrated win in Cats history.

"I didn't get to see the game live, but they absolutely smashed Port Adelaide," Graham said on Friday, a week after his former team's victory. "The town is still rockin'."

Any town would be after watching its team win a championship after a 44-year drought. The Cats also set a new AFL record by beating the Power by an unprecedented 119 points, 163-44, for their first premiership since 1963.

Since the victory, Graham has been able to talk to a few of his former teammates — at least the ones who took a break from the celebration. Within the next month or so, he will even have an opportunity to see his old friends in person.

"The sober ones, I've talked to," he joked. "I've spoken to a bunch of them and I'm so proud of the way they went about their business all year. They won all the individual awards on top of the premiership, so they deserved it.

"A couple of them are coming over to the States soon too," he said. "It's that time of year where they want to get out and about a little bit. Once they finish partying, that is."

Although it's been three years since Graham played for Geelong, he still has ties with many of the players — almost all, in fact. Unlike teams in the NFL, the AFL clubs draft and develop their players within and teams remain intact for years.

"That's the way teams are built in Australia. They stay together as a team a lot longer than you would here in the NFL," he said. "I played with all but three players on the winning team."

Which makes the victory that much sweeter, according to the Cats' former captain.

"That just goes to show that the club did the right thing recruiting them and that they stuck together and worked hard," he said. "The year before, in 2006, they had a bad year. They turned it completely around."

The victory by his former mates brings nothing but joy to Graham, not leaving him with any sense of jealousy. Even though he played 12 seasons for the club, he said his teams were never nearly as skilled as this year's Cats.

He wasn't just any player in that organization, either. Graham played in 219 career matches and after earning the club's "Best and Fairest" award in 1999, he was voted the team's captain in 2000, '01 and '02.

"You're envious of anyone, I guess, that wins a premiership, but you've got to give them so much credit," he said. "I wouldn't have been playing if I were still there anyways, so now I'm just a supporter on the sidelines cheering them on."

Watching the Cats and keeping up with their run to the league's title has sparked a little flashback in Graham. The 33-year-old punter even admits he still has some trouble being limited to such a reserved role as an NFL punter.

While playing for Geelong, the 6'5" centre half-back and center half-forward was known for his ability to play productively in all aspects of the game of Australian football. Graham went from playing an iron-man role to one of professional sports' most sporadic roles.

"That's always going to be the hard part for me," admitted Graham. "For 15 years I was a footballer. I'm still coming to terms that I'm not out there for 120 minutes, I'm out there three, four or five times and those are the only chances I get to really have an impression on the game.

"I sort of have learned that being a punter and thinking like a footballer isn't necessarily the best way to go about it," added the 2006 Jets special teams captain. "You have to just concentrate on your job and getting that done, because if I'm looking at the team and I want to be a wide receiver catching passes or if I want to be a linebacker making hits and tackles, it takes away from what I'm actually here to do. So that's the battle."

Based on his productivity in his first three years in the league, it's apparent Graham is winning that inner battle. He averaged 44.2 yards per punt last season with a net of 37.8. Additionally, 26 of his 72 punts last season were inside the 20 while 11 were touchbacks.

This season Graham already has six punts inside the 20, all on his end-over-end drop punts, one of which against Buffalo was marked down at the Bills 3. His gross average is down a bit at 41.9 yards per punt, but his net is 37.9, right where it was in each of his first two NFL seasons.

While these numbers will infatuate most fans, writers and coaches, Graham has realized that in the end, none of them truly matter to him.

"I used to think that it's all about the stats, because it's a very statistics-based league," he said. "I've realized that while stats are nice, if you do your job when you're supposed to do it, well, then the rest will take care of itself."

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