OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Long before he got to Chicago, Corey Graham earned a reputation for being deadly on special teams. He was a four-year starting defensive back at the University of New Hampshire but his most memorable play was the kickoff he ran back 99 yards for a touchdown against Georgia Southern in the opening round of the 2004 NCAA Division I-AA Championship tournament.
In five years with the Bears, he became a special teams ace, to the detriment of his hopes of being a full-time corner. He left Chicago for Baltimore at the end of last season looking for the opportunity he didn't see coming to him with the Bears, and has taken advantage of it. His two interceptions last week against the Broncos helped push the Ravens to this weekend's AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, and for Graham the performance captured how much he's seized his opportunity with the Ravens.
“When you are good at something, it is tough" Graham said. "When you get the label of a special teamer, it is tough to get that label off of you no matter what you do. Lovie Smith, he loved what I did as a special teamer, and that is what he wanted from me no matter what.
“So, I could go out at practice and get six interceptions at corner, but no matter what in the meeting, I was going to be Corey Graham, special teamer. That is just how it was. That was what he wanted from me, and that was my role in Chicago.”
The doors opened for Graham when Lardarius Webb, who led the Ravens in interceptions a year ago, went down with an ACL injury and Jimmy Smith had to undergo surgery for a sports hernia. He took advantage of the snaps he was given, starting eight games and coming up with two picks
“Corey is just a great football player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "And that’s the thing, when you see guys play well on tape, whatever they’re doing, if they do it well, you’ve got a football player. So, we started with that. He’s got very good ball skills. He’s got very good feet. He’s got tremendous understanding of the game. He's got all the things that make for a good defensive back.”
He will make his return to New England this weekend and he's already prepared for the boos he'll hear at Gillette Stadium. Some of them will be his old roommates.
“All of my roommates were big-time New England Patriot fans in college, and all of my friends still to this day are die-hard Patriots fans and Red Sox fans. It is a big game for me, obviously. I went to college in that area. I was up there all of the time. I know what it is like.
“They have die-hard fans out there. Obviously, you don’t want to lose against the Patriots, especially when all of my friends are going to be out there probably with a Patriot jerseys on. It’s going to be a little different his week, but no matter who you are playing, you want to go out there and win. This is for all of the marbles to get to the Super Bowl, so this is even bigger.”