The New Orleans Saints’ All-Pro tight end twice dunked the football over the crossbar Friday night after touchdown receptions against the Tennessee Titans, and twice drew unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for the celebration, which was made punishable by the NFL after last season. Graham's unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were two of 22 penalties called against the Saints on Friday in their 31-24 win.
So after a meeting with Coach Sean Payton, Graham said he will have to give up the tomahawks, two-handed powers and double-pumps that have made him a fan favorite in New Orleans, but one of which tilted the goal post during a game in Atlanta last season.
That dislodging caused a game delay while the structure was straightened, and led to the proposal and passage of a penalty for the move.
“For four years and however many touchdowns, I’ve always dunked it,” Graham said. “I’ve just got to stop doing that now.”
In Friday’s 31-24 victory over Tennessee in the preseason home opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Graham’s touchdown celebration twice caused the Saints to kick off following a 15-yard penalty. He scored on 6- and 19-yard passes, and finished with five catches for 48 yards.
“He and I met,” Payton said Sunday. “I’m his biggest fan. I’m sure as we get going here, that type of thing isn’t going to be a problem.
“Rules are changing constantly, whether we like them or whether we voted for them or any of those things. He’s outstanding. He’ll be ready to go. What took place in the meeting would be between he and I.”
Graham, who caught a league-high 16 touchdowns last season, agreed with Payton that the problem was resolved.
“At the time I scored and I dunked, (and) there was a little emotion there,” Graham said. “But we’ll get it corrected.
“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt this team in the regular season. The game is bigger than any individual or player and I’m trying to win games. That’s really all I care about. So Week 1 through however long we play, I’m going to do what’s best for the team.”
Graham said his meeting with Payton was a productive one, but not uncommon.
“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve met quite a bit and talked about a lot of things,” Graham said. “That’s what makes him so special – he has a personal relationship with each and every one of us. He treats us like men and he expects us to act like men.
“He’s my coach and I listen to him.”
Don’t expect the banishment of the dunk to temper Graham’s enthusiasm, though.
“I just love the game,” he said. “I have a lot of passion for the game and when I go out there on Sundays, it’s fun for me. It’s just fun.
“I feel like a little kid out there, and sometimes I act like it.”