By Ron Zapolo, 9News
Daniel Graham is a part of a very small and exclusive fraternity. He is one of only a handful of athletes that have played high school, college and professional football in Colorado.
“When I think about it, that is a really special accomplishment and a special moment in time,” said Graham.
But for Graham, becoming a standout football player was never the plan.
“It wasn’t a dream of mine to play in the NFL. I wanted to play in the NBA or Major League Baseball.”
Graham grew up in Denver and attended Thomas Jefferson High School. He even quit football after his freshman year.
“I just felt like three sports was way too much. I went right from football to basketball to baseball. Plus, I had enough of the cold weather. But then a new football coach came in and wanted me to play tight end and I ended up playing football and basketball.”
From there, it was on to CU. From 1998 to 2001, he was outstanding. Graham culminated his CU career by winning the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end.
When he thinks about his time at CU, he thinks about the friends he made. He is still close to many of them today. He also thinks about a conversation he had with his late father Tom.
After a great college career and a long time career in the NFL which included a stop in Denver, Tom Graham knew talent.
His father told Graham after his junior year in college, he was an NFL-caliber tight end. He remembers that was the first time he thought he could play professionally.
Graham was drafted in 2002 by the New England Patriots.
“It was a blessing to get drafted by the Patriots organization. How they operated, how they worked. I thought every team was like that until I left. I did not learn to play football until I got to New England. The attention to detail and the demand for excellence never wavered. Sundays were fun. Every other day could be miserable.”
He credits Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for all of it. He has two Super Bowl rings from his experience in New England, before coming to Denver.
“I grew up with guys like Alfred Williams and Shannon Sharpe giving me football cleats and to now play in my hometown was a dream come true.”
Graham was always held in high esteem by his teammates. He was named a captain on both the Patriots and Broncos. He finished his career with 224 catches and 25 touchdowns. He left the game being called one of the best blocking tight ends in NFL history by Belichick.
Known as DG to his friends he has stayed in Denver since his retirement from the game. He went back and got his degree from CU and he helped care for his father at the end of his life.
Graham has spent much of his time with programs that help kids.
In November, he was inducted to the CU Football Hall of Fame. He has the same feelings about going into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
“My wish would be that my dad were still alive to experience this. He wanted this more than I did.”
My wish would be that my dad were still alive to experience this. He wanted this more than I did.