Tom Graham, Dan Fouts, Ahmad Rashad
Tom and Marilyn Watkins were
married as students at Oregon.
They bought a home in southeast Denver when Tom was with
the Broncos and never sold it.
After Tom was traded, he and
Marilyn rented the
home during the season to young and single
defensive back Steve Foley. When Tom came to Denver as a
visiting team player and went to check it out and came across
a mess that would have embarrassed the residents of "Animal
House" -- which was filmed in Eugene, albeit as a 1978 release
-- he declared to Foley he would kill Foley ... and then Marilyn
kill him again.
Foley made sure the house was cleaned up before the Grahams moved
Tom and Marilyn's five children were Philip, Jason, twins Daniel
Josh, and daugher Ebony. Their faith remained undiminished
died at age 38 in 2011. Of brain cancer.
My 2007 story on the Grahams
not the only one to note this, but Tom was an energetic
man. He got a license from the NFL for team-themed vehicle air fresheners
and his company office
was on Brighton Boulevard, just south of the
Denver Coliseum. I'd meet
him there and we'd go to lunch in the area.
During one visit, I interviewed him for a Fox Sports Rocky Mountain
As we set up, the cameraman -- "Crash" -- noted he was a track
and field fan and said he was curious, how did the prominence of
charismatic Ducks distance runner Steve Prefontaine compare to
that of the star football players of that era, including Tom, Dan
and Ahmad Rashad?
"Oh, it wasn't
even close," Tom said.
"Really?" asked Crash.
"I thought Pre was big, too."
"No, you don't understand," Tom said. "We weren't even close to him."
And Tom laughed. That deep, guttural Tom laugh.
A visionary, Tom had other Broncos-related ideas, too. He even
registered them with the state. Orange Crush 2.0. No Fly Zone.
Over the past 15 months, Tom fought.
was heart-breaking when the news came that after
the cancer had returned. But Tom didn't give up, and most of all,
he didn't lose his
faith ... and his love for Marilyn, his family and
his friends. So many friends.
Those of us fortunate enough to be among this friends passed
through, and it was thrilling to see his eyes light up in recognition.
In my case, I was always representing my late father, my family
and his former teammates. We
would talk about Duck days, and
Tom got a kick out of remembering -- and telling other
that my father's most colorful language to his players was, "Kick
fannies." It became our code word.
tell Tom he was a fighter, he was kicking their fannies.
I visited him -- not often enough -- at home, at Porter Hospital
and at several care facilities, including private
home care and
Place, where he mostly was among Alzheimer's
patients and became Tommy, a friend, a former Bronco, a champion
among the patients. In April, Marilyn sent me a touching video of
Tom on a Chelsea Place van, explaining the meaning of Easter
to his fellow residents and the camera.
After most visits, I updated my siblings and also a few of Tom's
teamates around the country, and they would
pass along the latest
in what amounted to relayed
communication. Among those who passed
through Denver for visits were ex-Duck wide receiver Bob Newland,
who had a long career with the Saints, and a former Oregon basketball
star of that
era, Larry Holliday. Larry got tired of me telling
visitors that Holliday, a 6-foot-3 forward, outjumped Kareem-Abdul
Jabbar to open a half at McArthur Court.
(True story. Some things
you never forget.)
On good days, Tom would herald a thought by pointing. Not at you,
just pointing. Here came a Tom
statement, an idea, perhaps a question.
given that I had written many stories about CTE in football players,
figures from my books, we talked about that. Tom
wasn't accusatory or bitter, he was
We had no answers.
For a brief time early in his struggle, I was planning to do a story
for a newspaper on Tom's battle. Marilyn and I talked about it,
would be an upbeat story of a great man fighting. But
ultimately, Daniel and I agreed I'd
hold off, to keep the struggle --
known among those in the football community --
private, at least until, well, later.
That was fine with me. I wasn't there for a story. Though I would
be proud to tell it, that's not why I was there.
On Tuesday, May 30, I texted Marilyn and apologized for not
getting by that Memorial Day weekend or that day, as I had intended,
but said I would visit
in the next couple of days.
A little later, she replied: "Terry,
Tom stepped into GLORY this
evening a little before 8."
I was designated an honorary pallbearer.
Before the funeral on June 9 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church,
I had great chats with others
present from Tom's Eugene and Broncos
Larry Holliday (I told the story a few more times);
New York Giant George Martin, who entered the Ducks program as a
freshman when Tom was a senior and noted that Tom and Marilyn's home
was a gathering
point for the Ducks' young players; and Eugene
Michael Hilty. Dan Fouts, Rich Ackerman
and Jim Figoni represented
Tom's Oregon teammates.
Many of Tom's former Bronco
teammates were present too, including
Moses, Randy Gradishar and Claudie Minor (and many
Tom was -- is -- a great man, with a wonderful
living family and a faith that won't be
extinguished. More of his story
is in the pamphlet from his service below.
I always will
love him. And his family.