FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Patriots tight end Daniel Graham was ready to give up his career.

His big brother needed a kidney and Graham, one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends, puts family ahead of football. He was willing to donate one of his.

“I’ve got a bigger role in life,” he said. “This is my brother we’re talking about. It’s a matter of life and death. I can give up what I do for a living. I can find something else to do. If it came down to it, I was ready to do it.”

The surgery took place Tuesday in St. Louis. Jason Graham, 33, got a kidney from his mother Marilyn, who was a better match. Daniel, 28, was there for the operation and returned from the hospital Tuesday night in time to practice with his teammates, as usual, on Wednesday.

Both his mother and brother are doing fine, he said.

“I think about it but, at the same time, (when) I come to work I try to put that first and I deal with my family issues when I’m out of work,” he said Wednesday. “The surgery went well.”

Friday will be another unusual and happy day for Graham. That’s when he’ll attend his first Patriots captains meeting. Coach Bill Belichick added him to that group after practice last Friday, a rarity during the season.

“Coach came up speaking. First he asked how my family was doing, then he brought the information to me,” Graham said. “He told me the captains and the coaches liked my work ethic, the physical game I play and everything.”

He was surprised because the move came during the season. The only other time Belichick added a captain after the season began was in 2003 when he did it with safety Rodney Harrison. The other captains are Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Larry Izzo.

“It’s really not a goal of mine,” said Graham, who was a captain at Thomas Jefferson High in Denver. “I hope a lot of younger guys look up to how I play and what I do off the field. But when coach came up to me and added me onto the captains group, it was an honor for me. I told him that.”

The soft-spoken Graham has been a solid contributor since the Patriots drafted him in the first round out of Colorado in 2002. He started six of the 12 games he played as a rookie. In his first four seasons he had 99 catches, fewer than 25 per year.

And this year he has only 13 catches in eight games while another tight end, third-year pro Benjamin Watson, has emerged as the team’s leading receiver with 48 catches for a team-high 638 yards going into Sunday’s game at Miami.

But few tight ends block as well the 257-pound Graham.

“There’s a toughness. There’s teamwork,” Brady said. “Dan is a guy who does what the coach asks him. “Dan, you’re going to come in and run block.’ No problem. “Dan, you’re going to come in and run a seam route and make a diving catch.’ No problem.”

That’s the kind of player Belichick seeks in a captain. The other seven who fill those roles fit that description.

Belichick said Graham was made a captain because of his “leadership, his toughness, both mental and physical toughness on and off the field, his dependability” and the respect he gets from teammates and coaches.

Graham had two catches in last Sunday’s 28-21 win over Detroit, including a 9-yard gain that helped set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 25-yard field goal in the first quarter.

During their five seasons together, Brady has come to depend on Graham to run precise patterns, catch passes and keep 300-pound defensive linemen from sacking him.

“I’ve been through a lot with Dan,” Brady said. “He’s one of the core guys we have.”

Belichick has recognized that officially by making Graham a captain.

“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” the coach said.

Graham has that same philosophy, whether it’s a matter of donating a kidney to his brother or the far less significant issue of doing what his coach wants.

“He never complains,” Brady said, “straps his work boots on every time and does the best he can do. He’s a great teammate and great friend. He’s a big part of the reason why we’ve been successful here.”

AP-ES-12-06-06 1618EST


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