ST. PAUL, Minn. — Growing up in Buffalo, Corey Graham dreamed of playing in the NFL. As he pretended to be Deion Sanders in pickup games, his dreams included one day having the chance to be on the field during a Super Bowl.
Graham wound up doing exactly that, and earning a ring, in the first of the two seasons (2012 and 2013) he spent as a defensive back with the Baltimore Ravens.
Sunday, the former Turner-Carroll High School standout has a chance to appear in his second Super Bowl as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I can honestly say I've exceeded everything that I thought, even as a kid," Graham said. "I never thought that I would have a chance to play in two Super Bowls or have a Pro Bowl or even play 11 years in the NFL. So it's just been an amazing ride.
"Even I didn't dream of all this."
Graham's NFL ride began in 2007, when the Chicago Bears made him a fifth-round draft pick from the University of New Hampshire. In 2011, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and signed with the Ravens after the season.
After two years in Baltimore, Graham signed with his hometown team, the Buffalo Bills, in 2014. He remained with the Bills through 2016, his 10th season in the NFL.
Graham never doubted that he would be able to get an 11th year in the league at age 32. He just had no idea how far being a safety for the Eagles would take him.
"Honestly, I don't think I thought much about it, of having another opportunity to win the Super Bowl," he said. "When I signed (with the Eagles), obviously, I knew it was a good team, but I didn't know to what magnitude we would be. So it's been flat-out amazing. To have another chance right now is special."
Graham's decision to sign with the Eagles was heavily influenced by the fact Jim Schwartz was their defensive coordinator. Graham enjoyed playing for him in '14, Schwartz's only year with the Bills.
"From the beginning, when Schwartz was in Buffalo, we always had a great connection," Graham said. "Schwartz would come to me with different stuff, I would talk to him about different stuff. That's why it was easy for me to make the decision when things didn't go right in Buffalo to go to Schwartz."
Making the decision even easier was that, after two seasons of struggling with the many layers of Rex Ryan's defense, Graham longed for the simplicity of Schwartz's scheme.
"Rex's defense is so complex," Graham said. "His defense takes a lot of guys, especially DBs, all (being) on the same page, because his defense is crazy. It can be four, five, six different calls within one, especially when you're playing a team like New England with the movement and stuff they do. One movement contains the whole defense, so if one guy doesn't get it, it's a bust – guys running wide open.
"Schwartz and his defense, it's so simple. You line up, you know what you're going to get and you play fast, and allow us to just go out there and play as fast as we possibly can. I don't have to make a million calls to every guy on the field. I put us in a defense, I can go out there and play fast. When it's all said and done, you don't want guys overthinking. You want guys out there playing fast and reacting."