Graham, however, has made Wannstedt look good, becoming the go-to receiver in Chicago. The top target for quarterbacks Steve Walsh and Erik Kramer, the 25-year-old Graham is having his best season as a pro, leading the Bears with 38 catches for 506 yards and three touchdowns.
Graham traces the turning point in his career to the day in June he lost his 33-year-old brother, Walter, to brain cancer. Although they were never very close as children, their relationship grew stronger when they lived together in Pittsburgh after Jeff signed with the Steelers. Walter was Jeff's sounding board, toughest critic and mentor. "Walter always played the big brother," Jeff says. "He used to tell me how to do things. He was more experienced in life. After games, I'd ask him, 'How did I look?' I could always count on him to tell the truth, no matter how harsh it might have been."
After his brother's death, Graham says he became more focused, and that helped him on the field. "I realized that I had to be more mature," he says. "It was time for me to step up. I wasn't a kid anymore. I had to accept my brother's death. I had to accept being traded. And I had to prove myself.
"When I was traded to Chicago, I talked to Walter about it. He was in his bed, and he looked up at me and said, 'I want you to do well. Be the best that you can be.'
"I took his death hard," Graham says. "It hurt real, real bad. Walter's with me at all times. I have pictures, and I know he's watching me. Everything I do, I do to honor him. I want to make him proud."
Pass the Bucs
Last week's announcement that the Bucs are for sale was met with resounding applause throughout the league. "This is the best thing that ever happened to that franchise," says an NFC general manager. "The Bucs can be a very lucrative franchise. There's plenty of support in Tampa. When the team started winning in the late 1970s, you couldn't buy a seat."
Adds an NFC player personnel director, noting that the current system in the NFL favors teams that need rebuilding, "This is the perfect situation for a good owner and a strong coach. Buy it now, then go into free agency and get a facelift."
After the death of Buc owner Hugh Culverhouse in August, the trustees of Culverhouse's estimated $360 million estate announced that the team was not for sale. Now, three months later, it is, and a quick deal seems possible. The trustees have urged that the transaction (in May the team was valued at $142 million by Financial World magazine) be completed as soon as possible so that the Bucs won't get in late on the free-agent market, which opens up Dec. 27.
The 2-8 Bucs, on the verge of their 12th-straight double-digit losing season, need a change in leadership. Coach Sam Wyche, now in his third season in Tampa, has a 12-30 record, and it's obvious his regime has been a flop.