As the punter of the NY Jets from 2005-2008, Ben Graham sits with The Jet Press in an exclusive interview.
As a Jets fan from Australia, I’ve always looked up to Ben Graham as a hero of mine and a trailblazer for all punters coming out of Australia. After playing 219 Games in the AFL with the Geelong Cats which included a Club Best and Fairest in 1999, being Geelong captain from 2000-2002 and playing for Australia in the International Rules Series in 1999, it was an amazing journey for him to get to the NFL.
His American football career first started coming to life in 1997 when the Jets came out to Australia and worked out Graham. He actually ended up in the Green and White to start the 2005 season and played three fantastic years with the Jets. He also played for the Arizona Cardinals from 2008-2011 which included being the first Australian to play in a Superbowl (43) as well as finishing his career at Detroit.
Hope everyone enjoys this interview and I would like to thank Ben again for his time! Follow him on Twitter: @BenGraham7
1. Before you ended up in the Green and White in Jan of 2005 you were approached during your AFL career. Tell us how the Jets ended up getting in contact with you in the first place?
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The Jets approached me in 1997 and offered me a contract. In 2004, I went to try out for four different teams and the Jets had the best situation.
2. In regards to making the switch over from the Sherrin to the Wilson, what was the hardest thing both mentally and mechanically when you first started training?
Consistency of technique, a different shape ball and having to wear a helmet and pads.
3. You walked into Hofstra University at the start of the 2005 Jets’ training camp as the starting punter after knocking Micar Knorr off his perch. You were under head coach Herm Edwards and the famous special teams coach Mike Westhoff. What did you learn in that first training camp about the Jets as well as yourself?
I credit Westhoff for believing in me and trusting me with the job. I learned what a cutthroat industry the NFL is.
4. When you got to the Jets you wore #7. How special was that as you also wore #7 during your AFL career?
I was honored to be presented #7. The Jets did their homework and it was available. It helped me settle knowing they knew my history.
5. You debuted in Week 1 of 2005 at Kansas City against the Chiefs and became the oldest NFL rookie being 31 years old. Do you remember much of that day and what was the thrill of punting for the first time in an NFL regular season game like?
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was September 11 and it bought tears to me eyes for all sorts of reasons. All the hard work had finally paid off
6. After your rookie season in 2005, you finished the season with 3,233 punt yards and averaged 43.9 yards per punt which put you in the top 10 of the NFL. How was the experience of your rookie season and how did you set you up going forward?
The expectation in my first year was to just get it and punt it. It took awhile to feel like a real NFL punter even though I put up good numbers. Each season, the expectations went up.
7. In the off-season of 2006, you signed a six-year contact with the Jets. That must have been a massive thrill to know your foreseeable future as a Jet and not need to worry about contracts?
Even though I was extremely grateful for the six-year deal knowing that it was a long shot to see out the deal, the main reason behind the length was to secure a working visa due to the complex nature of an athlete working in the USA from contract to contract.
8. During that 2006 season, you were selected as one of the Jet’ co-captains for the season, becoming the first Aussie to captain an NFL team. What was that experience like and how much did the other players get around you during that time?
I was honored as it was the players vote. It’s a bit different to the AFL but all the same as it was an absolutely privilege to captain an AFL and an NFL team.
Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets fans celebrate an overtime victory over the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. New York Jets defeat the New England Patriots 26-20 in OT. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
9. The 2006 season was your second as a Jet. You averaged 44.2 yards per punt, finished top 10 in the league in total yards again with 3,812. You also hit your career longest punt, a massive 69-yarder against the Cleveland Browns, which was a career longest punt for you. What were a few highlights of that second season as a Jet?
Playing my first playoff game was fantastic but knowing I belonged in the league and that I had established some level of security in the NFL.
10. During that second season, you started to role out the Drop Punt as it’s known to us Aussies or the Rugby Punt/Pooch Punt in the US. How much courage did it take to bring it out of the Kit Bag and did you consult fellow Aussie Punter and Chargers’ Pro Football Hall of Famer Darren Bennett for some advice?
Darren is a mentor of mine and his knowledge and experience was invaluable. I had to prove the drop punt was a weapon but it wasn’t until 2006 that it was truly appreciated. The East Coast had never seen it before and it got a lot of coverage.
11. That off-season you were quoted in an interview saying “I feel good. I’ve worked hard preparing to have a good season,” Graham said. “But it’s good to have your teammates around you 100 percent supporting you, busting their butts to get downfield so they can down the ball at the 2.” How motivated were you going into your third season as a Jet to keep improving and make it a great year?
The special teams unit was a great group of talented athletes committed to the cause. Mike Westhoff will go down as the best special teams coach ever and the players loved playing for him even if he was a hard task master.
12. Season three was another solid season for you, averaging 43.3 and being in the top 10 in the league for punting inside the 20’s consistently. What can you remember from that third year?
2007 was another solid year but a bit below the expectations set for me. Things were good though, we were loving New York, experiencing things such as ringing the Wall Street bell, appearing on Sesame Street and in a Wiggles concert.
13. After four games of 2008 you were unfortunately cut by the Jets. Was that a surprise at the time to you?
It was a complete shock. The New York media thought I was the scapegoat for an under performing team. The cutthroat nature of the industry was fully realized at this point and I thought my career was over.
14. Tell us about the next three months? It must have been crazy! I worked out for about eight teams during this period. The one game for New Orleans was a great experience albeit for brief but I got to play at Wembley in London. By the time the Cardinals workout, I was resigned to the fact that punters are hired guns so I didn’t put any pressure on myself. The next 8 weeks was a blur.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; The Arizona State marching band performs before Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
15. Playing in that Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals being the first Aussie to do so must of had a great sense of pride. What was it like?
I played in the NFC Conference game against Sav Rocca. We knew that one of us was going to play in the Super Bowl and we were so happy for the man that did. To be the first was amazing. The whole playoff experience was unbelievable and playing in the Super Bowl was the greatest sporting moment in my life.
16. You then played three more years at Arizona and two at the Lions (ARI: 2008-2011 and DET: 2011-12). What were some great memories of those two franchises?
Arizona was our favorite place to live even though New York created some magic memories including my son being born. The family was settled, we had great friends and the kids loved school and the lifestyle. In 2009, I broke every punting record at the Cardinals and equaled the NFL record for most punts inside the 20. During the NFL lockout of 2011, my family moved back to Australia so the girls could start High School. After the lockout ended, I moved to Detroit for two seasons which would see the end of my eight year NFL career.
17. Now back to the best team in the NFL! You played with some great players when at the Jets, who was the best offensive and defensive player you wielded the Green and White with?
Curtis Martin was my running back, he is a Pro Football Hall of Famer but I also loved playing with Wayne Chrebet, Chad Pennington, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Defensively, Eric Barton, Erik Coleman and Bryan Thomas were my favorites. Overall, Mike Nugent was my favorite. We came into the league together, he is Godfather to my son and I was in his wedding party.
18. With the influx of Aussie punters such as Brad Wing and Jordan Berry now in the NFL as well as some awesome punters coming from college such as Jamie Keehn, where do you see the role Australian Punters play in the future of the NFL?
To transition straight into the NFL is an extremely tall ask. To play College football will always be the best route as they are compared to other College punters so the country you’re from and the lack of Football isn’t an issue.
19. Now tell me about the time you appeared on Sesame Street with Coles and Pennington? As silly as it sounds it must of been a pinch yourself moment!
One of my life’s greatest non-sporting experiences. One my family will never forget.
20. Now finally tell us about what you’re up to now in life after football and your role with the Western Bulldogs in the AFL?
I made the decision to get straight back into the AFL rather than waiting for a few years to weigh up what I wanted to do. I have business interests and other things in my life which enabled me to potentially not do much for a few years but the opportunity at the Bulldogs turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.
They are a great bunch of people and I enjoy working back in the AFL environment. My role is Football Operations Manager and part of my role initially was to set up the VFL team, Footscray from scratch. Obviously it was a team effort but being General Manager of Footscray and to win the VFL Premiership in our first year was a fantastic achievement.