Rod Oden had a weekend of a lifetime, getting a call from Brandon Graham, who wanted his former high school coach to enjoy his Super Bowl experience with him.
Graham played for Oden at Detroit Crockett, then went on to Michigan before helping the Philadelphia Eagles win their first Super Bowl on Sunday with a 41-33 upset over New England at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
And, Graham — a 29-year-old, 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensive lineman — made the play of the game when he quickly got off the line, beat Patriots guard Shaq Mason and stripped the ball from quarterback Tom Brady as he prepared to throw late in the game with the Eagles holding a slim 38-33 lead.
Philadelphia’s Derek Barnett recovered the fumble, and the Eagles took advantage of the turnover with a field goal to give them the eight-point lead with 1 minute, 10 seconds left.
Oden and his wife were in the stands to watch Graham enjoy his finest moment of is eight-year NFL career.
“I was at the Super Bowl, it’s bucket-list stuff, once-in-a-lifetime type of thing,” said Oden, the head football coach at East English Village. “You get a call from a kid that you coached back in high school, flying you and your wife out to the Super Bowl, ‘Come spend a week with us.’ It was incredible.
“My wife and I had a great time. But, just to get behind the scenes and all of the stuff leading up to the game, and for me as a coach the preparation part is what I was taking note of. How zeroed in and focused the guys were, in the midst of a billion people with cameras and these guys couldn’t walk through the Mall of America without getting stopped thousands of times. And, they were professional about it. Everyone that wanted to take a picture took a picture. The players signed autographs, and I thought that was outstanding.
“To be so close to the fans to where they could feel like they really knew how they felt about the Eagles being there, because Philly had really taken the city over, just so many Philly fans there, and then to watch him make the play to kind of clinch it was really gratifying, proud coaching moment for me to say the least.”
Oden recalls the time when Graham played for him at Crockett more than a decade ago.
“We didn’t have a field, practiced on a public playground, Tolan Playfield,” Oden said. “Brandon was a high-caliber kid coming out of Little League and he chose us. Most guys would have went with a program that was far greater established and polished, but he’s a brick-by-brick guy, so he’s part of the process of building it.
“Even when we moved from there over to Van Dyke, the old middle school, he never cried or felt mistreated when they didn’t have matched uniforms or helmets — those guys didn’t make an excuse. They saw kind of their circumstance and just played great football.
“No doubt, it was a rough neighborhood, most definitely, but I think if you talk to him, a part of that makes him who he is, coming from those humble beginnings and now realizing I have the ability to touch so many lives, and when he comes back home that’s the thing that he does with his wife. He understands that we have limitations here and he’s trying to close that gap for us.”
No doubt, Oden is proud of Graham, who is an outstanding defensive end, but more proud of him as a man. Graham and his wife, Carlyne (Williams) Graham — also a Crockett grad — have a foundation called Team Graham.
“He and his wife started a foundation called Team Graham, then there’s a Select 100 portion of that where they identify teenage girls and they mentor a group of girls where she brings in some of her celebrity friends and even just local professionals to talk to these girls about conduct, behavior and being a lady and understanding that you’re beautiful inside and out, and self-esteem and even self-defense,” Oden said.
“There’s always a physical component, one year there was 100 cheerleaders, last year it was 100 middle-school aged girls. This year, they haven’t identified the group yet. It’s usually girls that want to be a part of a weekend seminar. It’s like an empowerment seminar, like a women’s empowerment seminar. They learn how to walk in heels. They learn etiquette. They learn how to interview, how to talk, how to carry themselves as ladies, how to be professionals. And, they meet people in the industry.
“She’ll bring a celebrity or two in to talk to them about their story so it’s not just a football camp, it’s kind of an all-inclusive deal that the two of them do, so when we’re on the field, sweating and grinding it out, they're usually using the school building to have these break-out sessions and these seminars, these panels for professional women and judges and doctors and lawyers sit on and they talk about equality for women and things like that.”
Oden said Team Graham’s seminar/camp takes place the second Saturday of July at Detroit East English and is free of charge.
It doesn’t end there for the Grahams.
“Around the holidays, he’s in the spirit of giving, you know full baskets around Christmas and things like that, identifying and adopting families,” Oden said. “Everything is under the Select 100 brand so he’ll select 100 families to adopt for Christmas.”
Oden explained Graham’s camp.
“His camp isn’t a recruiting tool,” Oden said. “His camp is, ‘Coach, I want the kid who may not be the greatest athlete on his team, but he’s going to get up at 8 in the morning on Saturday and come and give a great effort.’ He doesn’t care if they’re recruitable or not. He wants the kid who wants to give up their Saturday or Sunday and come out and learn some ball or be a part of a great women’s empowerment seminar, and they sign up like that.”
No doubt, Brandon Graham will long be remembered as the hero of Super Bowl LII by Philadelphia Eagles fans, but certainly much more by his former high school coach who was thrilled to be a part of his greatest moment in football.