Graham relishes chance to prove himself

Kicking battle with Cundiff should benefit Ravens

August 03, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Shayne Graham was more than Virginia Tech's most prolific kicker when he left Blacksburg in 2000. He was also the football team's biggest eater.

A lean 200 pounds then, Graham beat bigger, 320-pound teammates in a series of eat-offs that made him the undisputed eating king, if not the proverbial Big Man on Campus. On one occasion, he downed 75 wings. On another, he ate four hamburgers and 13 chili dogs. Another time, he put away 18 tacos.

Graham has moved past his food passion -- which he says was about male ego -- to bigger numbers and a better career in the NFL. The fourth-most-accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history is trying to earn a job with the Ravens and give the team what it was lacking last season: a dependable veteran kicker.

Westminster -- and his kicking battle with incumbent Billy Cundiff -- is a step back in time for Graham, 32. He was the Bengals' kicker from 2003 through 2009, a franchise player last year and the most accurate kicker in Cincinnati history.

Now he's starting over. And in his mind, that's a good thing.

"Before, I had the support of everybody on the team, and when rookies would come in, they'd know that I was the guy. Now I've got to prove myself all over again. It's a challenge, but that's what makes it fun  because you're playing on emotions that you haven't really felt in a long time."

Graham's numbers, like Cundiff's, have been phenomenal early in camp. On Monday, he hit 12 of 13 attempts. On Tuesday, it was five of six. Perhaps more important to him, he followed each of his two misses with long, successful kicks.

"When you get those opportunities, it makes you feel pretty good," he said. "You want those opportunities. Â You want to keep at it and get that chance to redeem yourself, especially in front of the whole team."

Graham has converted 196 field goals in 230 tries in the NFL, an 85.2 percent success rate. But he has hit only three game-winners in nine seasons.

That he was available this offseason is somewhat of a surprise, given his success in Cincinnati. But he and the Bengals couldn't agree on a long-term contract, and he played the 2009 season as the team's franchise player, earning $2.483million.

Graham said his contract issues weren't the result of wanting to be the league's highest-paid kicker.

"I don't feel like they made an effort to make me a part of the establishment there for a long time," Graham said. "I felt like they wanted me; obviously you don't franchise a guy if you don't want him. But yet, I just don't feel like they made the effort to keep me there long-time. It had nothing to do with saying I wanted to be the top paid guy in the league  That was never the pure demand. But we never saw eye to eye.

"It's a shame because that's a place I felt like was home and those guys were my family for a long time. But such is life. You move on and find better things. I'm looking forward to placing myself here."

When Graham signed a one-year, incentive-laden $1.5 million contract with the Ravens in early June, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis talked about two missed field-goal tries in a playoff loss to the New York Jets haunting Graham. Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was evasive when asked about the effects of missed playoff kicks.

"In my opinion, he's got a body of work in this league with the field-goal opportunities and kickoffs. Â You know he can kick. And our playoff opportunities that come forward, if he's out there, we'll have full confidence in him," Rosburg said.

The kicker insists he was not offended by Lewis' comments and said the two men have since exchanged messages wishing the other good luck this year. "I think we had a really good player-coach relationship," he said. "I couldn't have asked for a better relationship."

Graham, who is listed at 214 pounds, has to start anew on a team that is accustomed to good kickers. He faces a formidable challenge in Cundiff. But the man who hasn't indulged in an eating frenzy for years said he relishes the chance.

"This is my chance to get back what I had, and I'm hungry for that," Graham said.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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