GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jimmy Graham hosted his second annual “Charity Cornhole Challenge” at Badger State Brewing in Green Bay Sunday.
“I think it’s one of the most Wisconsin things you can do is bags, beer, and ball,” Graham said.
Cornhole wasn’t the talk of the event though. Not after the Packers tight end showed up piloting a helicopter and landing it at the site of the event.
“It was a beautiful day, so I decided to come in this Huey that fought in the Vietnam War,” Graham said. It was built in 1967. I had it restored to take up veterans, to take up young underprivileged kids, and wounded warriors. We have such a great country. If you take from this country then you need to give something back. So this is kind of my give back.”
The proceeds from the cornhole event go to the Jimmy Graham Foundation which the helicopter will be donated to.
“The first flight I gave out was a Vietnam vet who flew the gunships in Vietnam,” Graham said. “I flew out to north Florida, and I landed in his backyard. I was able to go up for about an hour, let him fly, and get him reconnected with them and had him sharing stories. He had plaques and pictures all over his barn, so it was pretty neat.”
Graham recently added a commercial helicopter license to handful of others he already has. So where did Graham’s love for aviation come from?
“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot since I was a young boy,” Graham said. “It’s interesting because football and flying have kind of gone together. When I started playing football I started flying so it’s all kind of grown together. For me, when I’m up in the air, there’re no media, no analysts telling me what I need to do or how I can do something better. It’s just me and the aircraft until I get back on the ground.”
And Graham says there are some parallels between football and flying.
“For me it’s the ability to be disciplined and the ability to stay calm when things don’t go your way.”
Things didn’t go the Packers tight end’s way in 2018 when he finished with 55 receptions, 636 yards, and two touchdowns.
“Obviously last year was disappointing for everybody,” Graham said. “I’m not used to losing. I don’t think anyone here is, and for me it was not a good year. So I’m completely focused on putting my best foot forward and being the player that I am. I take it serious. It’s something that eats at me every day, just not making the playoffs and sometimes not making the plays that I should have. So you better believe I will be ready.”
Graham also struggled in his first season in Seattle in 2015 before bouncing back to make the Pro Bowl the next year . He says a repeat of that is possible with the Packers in 2019.
“There was a lot going on last year for all of us in the building, but all of that is in the past,” Graham said. “I know the player that I am and I know that I still have juice and I can still run. So I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong.”
At age 32 and entering his 10th season, Graham says there’s one thing that’s keeping him going before flying off into the sunset.
“For me all I think about is a ring. Until that happens, I’m going to keep playing. That’s all I really care about at this point.”