After all of it -- Russell Wilson’s injured ankle, his shot-put fumble while getting tripped by a teammate that could have cost the Seahawks their opener, the Dolphins’ dropped touchdown pass, Doug Baldwin’s career day and late score to win it -- Pete Carroll found Jimmy Graham.
The coach went up to his star tight end at CenturyLink Field immediately after Seattle’s 12-10 escape past the Dolphins Sunday. They hugged. Carroll looked up to whisper in the 6-foot-6 Graham’s ear.
Graham had only 17 snaps (out of the offense’s 82 total, barely one-fifth). Yet it was 17 more than the Seahawks and maybe even Graham thought he was likely to have in the 2016 opener back in January.
That was when Graham’s leg was immobilized as he recovered in Florida from surgery and a tricky patellar-tendon tear in his knee Nov. 29.
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“It was fantastic to get him back -- and most of all for him,” Carroll said. “ For him to be able to realize that he made it back. It was such a big injury, such an extraordinary rehab. I never saw him flinch in doubting that he would make it back, but it was a great accomplishment, and it was very emotional. It was very emotional.
All offseason and preseason, while running back Thomas Rawls was on track to get back from his broken ankle in December and played in a preseason game, Graham was on the sidelines. He was running the grass hill besides the Seahawks’ practice fields in Renton, just him and a trainer. For much of August, he caught passes early in practices, then took off his helmet and watched the rest of it.
It was no sure thing Graham would be back in September, let alone week one.
“All of those dark hours, when he’s on his own at home, and he’s a million miles from being able to step properly with his bad leg and all that,” Carroll said. “Then to work through it at and make it back to this was incredible. I couldn’t be more fired up about him and his courage. And Thomas, too. Both those guys did that within two weeks of each other. It was amazing, a statement about who those guys are."
Graham’s only catch Sunday was a big one. On Seattle’s final drive, from down 10-6 to the winning touchdown, the Seahawks had second and 6 from the Miami 27 with 2 minutes left. A field goal was of no use. Wilson took a short drop and zinged a ball inside the left hashmarks to Graham, who had run a seam route into space. The 11-yard gain put Seattle in the red zone, and Wilson connected with Baldwin for the winning score three plays later.
After the game, Wilson revealed Graham was playing on the birthday of a woman the tight end considers like a mother, Tammy Meyerson. In the spring of 2015, Meyerson died in Florida. Graham flew from a Seahawks minicamp to be there to honor his former manager. Wilson did, too.
"To get Jimmy back, it’s been an emotional time. Jimmy and I are really close,” Wilson said. “It’s been an emotional time, because he came here with such high expectations. I thought he did a great job, when he was playing. He had a decent amount of catches, like 48 catches before he got hurt (last season). We were all really trying to get in the groove, all of us, not just him, but everybody, including myself that first half of the season.
“To have him get injured, and to have him go through all the things he had to go through to get here. First of all, it’s a testament to our trainers and people who were helping, but it’s a testament to his heart and soul, and what he really wants do to. He wants to be great.... Jimmy Graham always displays that every day. His mentality, his toughness, his edge, his passion for the game, it doesn’t get any better than that.
”You think about guys like Thomas Rawls and Jimmy, those guys have come back from their situation and played at such a high level. Then Jimmy comes up with such a huge catch and run the route just right, just perfect, and boom, he makes the play. He’s a great player.
”So, for Jimmy I know it was his basically his stepmom Tammy’s birthday today, too. So, she’s in heaven, and we want to wish her a happy birthday. It’s an emotional day, to be able to come back from all the injuries, and the injury that he had and to be able to come in his first game and be clutch for us. The situation that he was in, too, and Tammy and all that, it’s a special day. It’s a special day for our troops, too, the 9-11 thing, so it was an emotional day and a great win, too.”