January 28, 2009 in Sports

Super Bowl has first Australian

Cards punter feels more will follow
By Doug Haller Arizona Republic
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Super Bowl XLIII Steelers vs. Cardinals Sunday, 3 p.m.
(Full-size photo)

Super Bowl XLIII

Sunday, 3 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. – He will be the first Australian to play in the Super Bowl. A punter with a former life in Australian Rules Football, which could make him a trendsetter of sorts.

Ben Graham, 35, soaked in Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday. He spent most of his time talking about his Australian days, nearly 10 minutes discussing his time with the New York Jets and just a few seconds discussing his favorite music.

“Every U2 song ever made,” the Arizona Cardinals punter said, “but I have grown to like rap a little bit because that’s all they play in the locker room.”

He knows his background isn’t totally foreign to Americans, at least not to sports fans. Anyone who watched ESPN back in the day saw a few minutes of Australian Rules Football, usually long after Letterman and Leno had said good night.

Graham played 11 seasons in Australia, but in 2004 he felt it was time for a change. Living in Geelong, Victoria, was kind of like living in a fishbowl, Graham said. It was time to experience the “big, wide world.”

In 2005, the Jets signed Graham, who became the fourth Australian to play in the NFL. He punted in New York for more than three years, his time elapsing just days after the Jets beat the Cardinals 56-35 on Sept. 28.

After a team meeting, Graham was on his way to the locker room to prepare for a team photo when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“I went upstairs and was told I was being released,” Graham said. “I actually left the building, walking past my teammates getting their photo taken.”

After an eight-day stint with New Orleans, the Cardinals signed Graham on Dec. 1. His unique end-over-end kick has resulted in a 42-yard punting average.

“He’s a big, strong leg,” Cardinals special teams coach Kevin Spencer said. “He’s extremely accurate with the (end-over-end) kick. We’re still working on some things technically, but he’s a little bit of an older guy, so he’s got maturity. And he’s got those specialty kicks, which I think are critical for us to secure field position.”

Four Aussies played in the NFL this season. Graham expects more once his countrymen learn how to make the transition.

“I definitely think there will be, but it’s a lot harder than people think,” he said. “Just because you have the ability and you have the desire, it’s a process: getting visas, the sacrifices, the money that you need to support yourself before you make a team. It’s important, (but) I’ve got no doubt that the American system, whether it be the NFL or college, will look to Australia.”


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