In September the Saints' star became the first tight end to be named Offensive Player of the Month in the 27-year history of the award. The 6'7" former Miami basketball player has 37 receptions for 593 yards and six TDs for 5--0 New Orleans.
DAN PATRICK:What's it like having [coach] Sean Payton back?
JIMMY GRAHAM: It's truly been amazing. Just the presence that he brings and the perfection that he demands. He's been more fired up than he's ever been.
DP:What do you guys have on offense with him that you didn't have last year?
JG: He's going to let you know immediately if you don't do your job. Also he and Drew [Brees] have a great connection—[Payton] making the calls and Drew believing in them 110%.
DP:What's Brees like in the huddle?
JG: He's all business. He gives the little speech every time we get the ball: We're going down to score no matter what. Don't take any plays off and don't take any drives off.
DP:Jon Gruden said the Saints were running the Spider Two Wide Banana on Monday Night Football against the Dolphins in Week 4. Is that true?
JG: Yeah. He knows most of our calls.
DP:Are you the banana?
JG: Yeah, I'm the banana. I'm the first read there.
DP:Is there a part of you that wanted to see how good you could have been in the NBA?
JG: I think the best I could be is probably Birdman [Heat forward Chris Andersen]—a guy who's looking to get physical and bring a little excitement to the game.
DP:Do you think you could play right now?
JG: At 270, I'd have to lose a couple of pounds or I'd foul out every time.
DP:You obviously still can get up, based on your TD celebrations.
JG: I'm a huge University of Miami fan. I'm always at games thinking if I could just get a jersey and get in for a couple of minutes, I would definitely make my presence felt.
DP:How would LeBron James do in the NFL?
JG: We're always talking about that in the locker room. If there's any player in the NBA who could come and be a complete superstar in the NFL, it's LeBron. He would be the man.
DP:If the Saints signed LeBron, could he start over you?
JG: It would take him a couple of weeks to figure out the offense, but eventually I think he probably would.
DP:Wait. You're the banana here. He should be second banana to you.
JG: We would probably be the best tight end combination ever. Drew Brees just makes me look a lot better than I am.
DP:Who would win a dunk contest of NFL players?
JG: No doubt I win. With pads I can still do between the legs. Without, I can do special stuff with that basketball.
USC AD Pat Haden fired coach Lane Kiffin on Sept. 29 but acknowledged that sanctions against the program made the job nearly impossible over the last few years. "Vince Lombardi would have had a tough time getting through this," Haden said.... I asked John Smoltz to put the dominance of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw into perspective. "If they had to start baseball all over again and they had an open draft," Smoltz told me, "I would bet that he'd be the No. 1 pick." ... I wondered if Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had a problem with lower-division schools getting blown out by Division I teams just for a payday. "It's reality that paydays help drive a budget," said Meyer, who used to coach Bowling Green. "Paydays help drive a training table. Paydays buy uniforms—and not just for football."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (GRAHAM)
NICK UT/AP (HADEN)
MIKE ZARRILLI/GETTY IMAGES (SMOLTZ)
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MEYER)