This past Sunday, Carlyne Graham and her children joined her husband, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham, on the field after the Birds secured the NFC Championship victory. The couple’s three-year-old son Bryson smiled for photos while six-year-old daughter Emerson cried and hugged her dad. “She understands what’s going on, which is why she was crying,” Mom explains.
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This is nothing new to the Grahams—especially after Brandon’s game-winning strip-sack of Tom Brady back in Super Bowl LII—but special, nonetheless. This year, Brandon’s 11 sacks set a personal record, helping the Eagles become the first team in history with four different players to reach double-digit sacks. Carlyne can tell the team’s vibe and sense of togetherness are something special.
“You can definitely tell the difference between a Super Bowl team and a team that’s trying to figure out where they fit in,” she says. “This is something special. Everyone knows that.”
Off the field, the Grahams are your typical, everyday family. “A lot of people tend to laugh when I say this, but we’re just like any normal household,” Carlyne explains. “My husband takes the kids to school. He enjoys taking them to swim class and folding clothes. We have a normal, lowkey, functioning family dynamic.”
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Game days for the Grahams start off much like normal Sunday mornings, with the family coming together for breakfast. For a 1 p.m. game, Brandon leaves the house about four hours in advance, with his wife and kids following two hours later. After arriving at the Linc, Carlyne gets everybody situated in the suite before heading down to the field with Emerson and Bryson. “[Brandon] really enjoys seeing the kids on the field and giving them hugs and good luck kisses,” she says.
Then it’s back up to the suite, where Emerson spends time reading, coloring and playing with her dolls, making the trip up to the front of the suite after every touchdown to do a happy dance. For Carlyne and Bryson, the stakes are higher. “My son and I have designated seats,” she reveals. “We sit in the front, and he sits with me the entire game. His attention span for wanting to watch the game is very interesting to me.” She explains how her son is “very intrigued” by Jalen Hurts, a sentiment to which all of the Philadelphia region can relate. “He knows that his dad plays defense, but he’s more interested in the quarterback position.”
Carlyne doesn’t feel that she’s very superstitious, but she does mean business when it comes to the designated seats she shares with Bryson. “No one can sit in that seat. I don’t care who’s in there,” she quips. “Sometimes I joke around. If [the game] is starting to go downhill and people are moving around in the suite, I’ll tell everyone, ‘Go get back in your seats.’ A couple times that has happened, and we won!”
The feeling of watching her husband take the field is never something Carlyne will be at ease with. “When the fans are watching, it’s entertainment for them. It’s fun and exciting. For me, any time [Brandon] is in there, it’s like an anxiety. It’s like watching your significant other having head-on collisions. It’s nerve-wracking to see because you know one wrong step and they can get injured,” she says. When her husband is on the field, Carlyne is zoned in on him. “If someone goes down, I have to visually find where #55 is, and when I see he’s okay, I can rest.”
After the game, Carlyne and the kids reunite with Brandon in the team’s family room. Depending on who’s there, they might step back out onto the field for some photos, but then it’s time for dinner at Chickie’s and Pete’s (Carlyne wasn’t kidding when she said they were a very normal family).
Back at home, Brandon puts the kids to bed. “That’s his favorite thing to do,” his wife shares. “He reads to them, prays with them and then goes to review film.” Meanwhile, Carlyne preps for the next day.
“We’re just like every other family,” she says. “I do that for a reason, because when he’s done [with football], that’s what our life is going to be like. I don’t want there to be any surprises when we transition to what I consider the ‘real world.’”
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For 11 years, the Grahams retreated back to Michigan after the end of the season, but this became too much of a hassle after Bryson was born. When deciding on where home would be, Carlyne made the call to move her family to the Main Line, something she cites as being the best choice they could have made. “I made the decision that we are going to stay here in Philadelphia because of the love that they give Brandon,” she says. “When I’m out in the community, it’s just nothing but love.”
After getting married in 2014, Carlyne quickly dove into raising her family. Now that the kids are in school, she has some time to pursue her other passions. With a law degree and a master’s in social work from Loyola University Chicago, she’s a licensed psychotherapist and is pursuing a career as a lactation consultant. She interns and does clinicals at Paoli Hospital, CHOP and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Her goal is to help new moms deal with the many struggles, like anxiety and postpartum depression, that come along with transitioning into family life.
As for Brandon’s 13-year career, some Eagles fans have questioned whether the defensive end will retire after this season. “I’m not telling him when to retire,” his wife says. “He has to make the decision.”
She’s talked with friends whose husbands have stepped back from the league, so she understands the grieving process that will come along with it. When that time does come, Carlyne thinks living in the Philly suburbs will help her husband make the transition. “When he’s done and doesn’t want to be around football or talk about it—and that time probably will come—then we’ll consider moving to Arizona, Florida or California.”
For now, the Graham family is happy in their Main Line home. “Philadelphia has a special place in our hearts, so this is where we are,” Carlyne says. “We’re always going to be a part of the Eagles.”
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