It is the nature of college football — players cycle in and out every four years, many are forgotten, and even the best are supplanted in fans’ minds by the newest sensation. However, there are a few players that leave a lasting, indelible impression. Charles Woodson will always be #2. Desmond Howard, #21. Braylon Edwards, #1. Mike Hart, #20.
And for me, #55 at Michigan is now property of Brandon Graham.
His numbers are truly spectacular: 28.5 career sacks and (fittingly) 55 career tackles for loss, both marking the second-best total in school history. The fact that these numbers came when often he was the only player on the defense worth focusing on, when teams stayed away from his side of the line like the plague, only serves to make them more impressive. But Graham’s legacy should go far beyond the numbers.
To watch Graham play on Saturday was to watch a man possessed — his focus was never on the stats, but on doing whatever he could to give Michigan a better chance to win. When the Wolverines needed a stop, down two scores, there was Graham, sacking Terrelle Pryor or hitting Brandon Saine in the backfield to give Michigan hope. When Michigan needed a boost from the fans, there was Graham, arms raised, willing the crowd to make noise, like he has done all season. When Ohio State punted, there was Graham, slamming into three blockers at full, terrifying speed, just in case he could force his way through for a block, or at least put a hurting on a couple Buckeyes.
Off the field, Graham had every opportunity to throw his team under the bus, to say it like it was, that he was carrying the defense by himself and could use some help. I wouldn’t have blamed him — Graham often looked like a varsity player stuck on the JV team. Instead, he called a players-only meeting last week just to let everyone know how much this game meant, how much this program meant, what it truly meant to don the Maize and Blue and battle the Scarlet and Gray. By all accounts, Graham is a good a man off the field as he is a player on it.
With a couple minutes left, as Michigan Stadium started to empty out on Saturday, and the stands turned red with the multitude of celebrating Ohio State fans, there was every reason to turn around and head for the exit. But there was Brandon Graham, still playing his heart out until the clock reached 0:00. No one would have blamed him for quitting, just like no one would have blamed us for leaving. But he was there, so we stayed.
Brandon Graham deserved better. He will be remembered as the best Wolverine on the worst Wolverine teams, and that’s not right. He’s simply one of the best Wolverines, ever. It has been a privilege to watch him play. Hopefully, after a long and successful NFL career, Graham will find himself back in Ann Arbor, with the program in some capacity, and we can give him the victories that he so richly deserved as a player.