One day, the football used to clinch the first true road victory in New Orleans Saints’ postseason history will rest in an honored spot in Shayne Graham’s home in Virginia.
It will join about 20 other balls the 36-year-old Graham has collected over the course of the college and pro career, which has seen him kick for 10 NFL teams over 13 seasons.
On Tuesday, the ball had a cozy spot to itself in Graham’s locker as reporters talked to him about his 32-yard field goal that gave the Saints a 26-24 wild-card victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night.
Graham’s fourth field goal of the night split the uprights as time expired in chilly Lincoln Financial Field, advancing the Saints to a divisional playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
While the kick secured the first playoff victory away from home in the 47-year history of the Saints’ franchise, it was also the first game-winning kick in postseason play for Graham.
Nearly 14 years after being signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent and being cut during the 2000 training camp, Graham came through in the clutch and became the franchise’s newest hero.
“I think it’ll be something I remember for a long time, whether I was here in 2000 or not,” Graham said, “just because it’s a part of something special. … I feel this team has something special going on here.
“It’s my first playoff game-winner, so it’s going to mean a lot to me,” Graham said before adding that the kick won’t mean any more than the other 259 field goals he’s had in his career. “That was just the kick at the present moment, so that made it the most important.”
Graham, who wasn’t re-signed by the Houston Texans after the 2012 season, was sitting at home for 15 weeks waiting for the phone to ring when the Saints decided to make a change.
After Garrett Hartley had a field-goal attempt blocked and missed another short kick in a 27-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 15, coach Sean Payton made the call.
Graham, whose last field-goal attempt was a successful 55-yarder in the divisional playoffs at New England last January, connected on both of his attempts in two regular-season games and was 4-for-4 at Philadelphia.
He said he didn’t believe the long kick against the Patriots would be the final one of his career.
“I just stayed ready. … I felt I was going to get an opportunity because teams were still calling,” Graham said. “Teams had not forgotten about me, and that’s a good feeling to know that you’re the guy they’re thinking about.”
Payton was certainly happy they thought about him after bringing him in — along with four other kickers — for an initial tryout when Hartley struggled at midseason.
“He has come in and obviously kicked very well the other night,” Payton noted. “It was significant. He got one of the special teams game balls.
“Not only did he kick well, each hit was solid,” he said. “It was pure. It was great to see in a critical situation. Even the one at the end, you still have to hit it.”
Graham, who’s made 85.5 percent of his field-goal attempts in the regular season and is 86.7 percent in the playoffs with only two misses, said he kept his same routine for the final field goal despite the ramifications.
“You don’t do anything or try to press any harder,” he said. “It’s like if you’re building a house and you’re hammering a nail. You hammer it the same way every time. If you’re building a bigger house, you still hammer the nail the same way.”
The big night helped him forget the only two misses of his postseason career, from 28 and 35 yards out, in the Cincinnati Bengals’ 24-14 wild-card loss to the New York Jets in 2010.
After the game, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the two misses “killed us” and led to Graham’s departure after seven seasons although Graham said they maintain a good relationship.
“Any comments any coach says about a player who doesn’t perform to their potential is deserved,” Graham said. “I didn’t do my job that day. There are probably a lot of people in Cincinnati who are still bitter over that and think I can’t kick in the playoffs. But I’ve been in the playoffs almost every year since then and done well. So those kicks don’t matter to me any more.”