Harrell’s opportunity ‘surreal’
Tye Chandler,[email protected]
Certainly Graham Harrell was a happy man when the Green Bay Packers signed him in May 2010, because the former Ennis Lion record setter thought he was good enough to play at football’s highest level.
But Graham didn’t know at that time just how well he’d mesh with the Green Bay organization — an organization in search of its second Super Bowl title this Sunday in Arlington.
The big game
While the build-up to the Super Bowl is an experience unto itself for an NFL player, what Graham has been talking to his father about in recent days is how well the Green Bay organization treats its players.
“They rented an entire hotel for the team and every player was provided two family rooms,” said his father Sam Harrell. “They rented all the players cars and just take care of them in a lot of ways. Graham said it’s been good all season, but the Packers are really stepping it up this week.”
Graham got Super Bowl tickets for Sam, his mother Kathy Harrell, as well as his brothers Zac and Clark. The other two tickets Graham was able to share are going to Clark’s wife Jordan and family friend Bryan Clark — a football coach at Ennis High.
“To be honest, we all don’t know really what to expect or how to act,” Sam said. “None of us have ever been to a Super Bowl. You think you’d like to go one day, but don’t know if you ever will. If it wasn’t in (Arlington), we probably wouldn’t make it with all the travel considerations.
“Every day you turn the TV on, that game is all they talk about and you realize we’re going to be there. We’re not quite sure how early we ought to leave (Ennis on Sunday), but it’s exciting and we’re looking forward to it.”
Sam was asked if he could ever have envisioned years ago that one of his sons would be suiting up for a team in the Super Bowl.
“You feel blessed to have a child in this position,” he said. “We never thought Graham would go to the NFL for sure back when he was in high school, but we’re appreciative of the opportunities he’s had. For this to happen in his first year in the league right here in (Arlington) — everything kind of fell into place. It’s surreal and special.
“At the start of the season knowing the Super Bowl was here, I just joked with a friend that it sure would be something if Green Bay made it. For a while it didn’t look like they’d even make the playoffs with all the injuries they had.”
Sam always told his Ennis Lion teams it’s not the best team that usually wins the championship; it’s the hottest team.
“That’s what happened to Green Bay and now they’re in the biggest game of all,” Sam said.
As one might expect, the Harrell family became instant Packer fans when Graham signed in May. But months later, it’s more than fan-by-relation.
“Our family being Packer fans all started with Graham being signed there, but Kathy and I took a trip (to Green Bay) for a preseason game Graham played and that trip really sold us,” Sam said. “You see Lambeau Field and the Packer Hall of Fame, plus there’s a family-oriented atmosphere at the games. It’s really more of a college atmosphere than pro. There’s definitely lots of Packer gear in our house now.”
Packers prove perfect fit
“He immediately came to enjoy working under (head coach) Mike McCarthy; he’s an offensive-minded guy who likes quarterbacks,” Sam said. “Green Bay has a small-town feel. It reminds Graham of Lubbock (during his time at Texas Tech). What he liked about being there so much was how friendly people were and how easy it was to get to know (the town), so he feels like he fits in better at a place like Green Bay.
“He loves the organization. They don’t put up with a lot of nonsense, but they treat players right.”
A local football fan will have a hard time finding a recent picture of Graham in a Packer jersey without his beard, and don’t look for a new one anytime soon.
“Graham grows his beard out for two reasons,” Sam said. “He’s always hated to shave and also being up there in Green Bay, he’s warmer with it.”
As the new kid in town, Graham could’ve been in for a difficult transition when he arrived in Green Bay. Fortunately, his fellow signal callers provided a great support system for Green Bay’s No. 3 quarterback.
“(Backup) Matt (Flynn) is probably Graham’s best friend on the team, but he likes (starter) Aaron (Rodgers) real well, too,” Sam said. “Aaron has really helped him along the way, especially there early. Graham was learning from Aaron more than the coaches, especially when Matt was taking (practice) reps, and Graham always appreciated that.
“Matt and Graham have a lot more down time (than Rodgers), so they do a lot of things together. They share a car when (the Packers) go on the road and also roomed together during the year.”
It would seem Graham has been able to buddy up with Packers at other positions too.
“Besides Matt, Graham is also really close with (offensive tackle) Mark Tauscher,” Sam said. “He’s a little older and has a wife and child, but Graham spends a lot of time hanging out with Mark and his brother. Then there’s a linebacker, Matt Wilhelm, who came in during the season, and for whatever reason he and Graham hit it off.”
In week 15 of the regular season with Rodgers out due to a concussion, Graham was put on the active roster as the backup to Flynn.
“Graham was excited about getting put on the active roster for the game versus New England,” Sam said. “I reminded him he really was now just one play away (from game action). He didn’t want anything to happen to Matt, but he had to be ready. Plus, (New England’s) Tom Brady has always been the type of quarterback Graham likes and he enjoyed the chance of his first game possibly being there.
“During that practice week, Aaron is the one who called Graham and told him he was going to be put on the active roster and that he deserved his chance.
“Graham had been coming in early and doing things right, but it made Graham feel good that Aaron wanted to make that call.”
Graham Harrell is no stranger to a state championship ring from his Ennis Lion days, but after Sunday night the signal caller might have to make room on his hand for a Super Bowl ring, as well.