The Falcons and the Vikings face off in a conference matchup on Sunday afternoon in the Georgia Dome. Take a look at these photos from the game.
Shayne Graham has a unique checklist he goes through before every field goal try. It was put together nearly three decades ago when Graham's father, Thomas, bought his son a pigskin and took him to a baseball field to kick. The nine-year-old's first attempt went straight into the top of the backstop and punctured a hole in the ball. So dad returned to the store and made another purchase.
Once they had the necessary gear, the elder Graham came up with the "Four F's", which are to be remembered in succession: focus, fundamentals, an expletive-laced remark and follow-through. According to his kid, these points give him a clear mind as toe meets leather.
Graham has gone through the Four F's many times since those childhood practices in Radford, Va. Youth football led to high school, which led to Virginia Tech, which led to a long NFL career. But, at 37, he entered the 2015 campaign as an unrestricted free agent. Then life took a devastating turn.
About a month ago, Graham's father became gravely ill. He passed away on Nov. 24 with Shayne and his daughter, Michelle, at his side. He was 71.
A day later, the Falcons called Graham and asked if he'd be interested in a tryout. They told him Matt Bryant had just injured a quad and might not be ready for Week 12. Want to come down and see if you can help us? Despite being in the midst of a painful grieving period, Graham responded with a yes.
"I know dad would kick my tail if I didn't," he said. "He knew this was something I was still fighting for. He told me not to give up."
With a heavy heart, Graham impressed Atlanta's coaches at Flowery Branch and, once Bryant was ruled out against Minnesota, received an offer to join the team. He took it, then made the most of his opportunity.
Atlanta's offense provided him with one FG bid on Sunday: a 31-yarder. Once he got set, Graham rolled through his F's, took a deep breath and nodded at the place holder, Matt Bosher. The next couple seconds were a blur—that's how it's supposed to be, after all—and as he looked up, the ball sailed through the uprights.
And as the crowd applauded, Graham thought only of his old man and those sage words that have helped him for so long.
"They gave me comfort, so I felt very confident," he said. "It felt good to be back out there, and I just hope however long Matt's injury is—I hope it's not long, for his sake—whatever chance I get, I hope I can make a good showing for myself."
Graham was understandably emotional following Sunday's game—the first without his dad, his mentor, his friend. This situation has been difficult, of course, but he's comforted by the knowledge that his father would be thrilled to see his boy make a successful NFL return.
And he'd be honored to know what went through Shayne's mind as the Falcons faithful cheered him on.
"I wanted to have a good game to help the team, but I also wanted to make my dad proud," Graham said. "He would have just been happy to see me on the field. I think he's proud of me, in a way, just for having this opportunity, with all the challenges in life. To be able to make it to this level, he was extremely proud—and being able to do that made me feel good for him."