Graham arrives packing

9-2-03, 7 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Shayne Graham laughed at the question.

"Five days?" asked Graham, when asked if five days is enough time to get ready to kick for a team. "The last time, I had five hours. Five days is fine."

Graham is the Bengals' new Opening Day kicker, suddenly summoned Monday when they released Neil Rackers and claimed him off the waiver wire from Carolina.

Five days?

Last year, when the Panthers' John Kasay suffered a sports hernia, Graham signed with the club on the Saturday they left for Green Bay and only had a pre-game warmup to prepare for his first field goal try since 2001.

It ended up going wide from 24 yards out with 16 seconds left in the game and the Panthers trailing, 17-14. But he rebounded to hit 13 of his last 17, two from 50 yards, and nearly beat out Kasay this preseason in a competition that ended Sunday with Graham's release.

"Things are going to happen to you in the world like that in sports and life," Graham said of the miss. "You always want to have the good memories, the good times, but you've got to realize there are going to be those times in between you don't want to remember. It makes you stronger and with professional sports, it's not always going to be easy."

If it sounds like Graham, 25, is adjusted and grounded, it's because he is. The word out of Carolina is he's a sold guy who is improving every day as a kicker. He's also growing confident, as evidenced by how he packed Sunday for the drive from Charlotte to his home in Dublin, Va.

"I packed one of my suitcases for a week of clothes because I had a feeling I was going to get a call,"

Graham said. "I also took all my kicking stuff. I wanted to get back and see my family for at least a day, but I was confident I had done enough that somebody was going to pick me up pretty soon."

The call came Monday morning and since the Bengals hadn't planned on him being there for Monday afternoon's practice, they gave him the option of driving his car to Cincinnati, and the Bengals' fifth Opening Day kicker in the last 23 years (Jim Breech, Jim Gallery, Doug Pelfrey, Rackers) arrived at his downtown hotel after dinnertime following a six-and-a-half hour drive.

"I've been popping in and out since I got in," said Graham from his room as midnight Tuesday neared. "I figure I'll get in there early tomorrow."

Tuesday is an off day. But not for Graham, and probably not for holder Nick Harris, and maybe not long snapper Brad St. Louis. He's not too concerned about getting it down with them as the Broncos wait 120 hours away.

"This is how I feel about holding and this is probably all I'm ever going to say on the subject," Graham said. "If these guys are good enough to be in the NFL, they must be very good athletes who can handle the ball, or they wouldn't have them doing it. They're great athletes who can catch and I'm going to be able to kick it."

Graham didn't let on if he knew the Bengals have had problems with the hold this preseason, but then, he's had his own fish to fry. Conjuring up memories of the Pelfrey-Rackers showdown in the 2000 training camp, Graham went right to the wire with the popular Kasay, 33, last of the original 1995 Panthers. In the end, head coach John Fox said Graham didn't lose it, only that Kasay basically won by divine right.

"John and I talked about this and we both knew it could go either way," Graham said. "I felt like there was a legitimate case for either one of us. I felt like I did well when I was there. He's kind of an icon there. He's very well admired as a person and as a player and I can understand completely. Of course, you don't want to be on the bottom of one of those decisions, but you take it and have faith you get another chance."

Graham was 2-for-4 on field goals in the preseason with makes from 24 and 42, and misses from 44 and 55. He also kicked off and after a season he didn't do it, he put a couple in the end zone for touchbacks. He knows virtually nothing about the Bengals except that his assistant special teams coach in Carolina, Darrin Simmons, is the special teams coach, but he figures he'll be asked to do the kicking off here.

"The plan at some point was to alternate last year," said Graham of a rotation with Pro Bowl punter Todd Sauerbrun. "But it never happened. It's something that I've worked on to do. That was my one blemish coming out of college, that I couldn't kick off, and I didn't do well at the combine. I've been working at it."

Graham didn't hook on with the Saints coming out of Virginia Tech as an undrafted free agent in 2000, but he got a bit of revenge in last year's finale when his career-high 50-yard field goal helped send New Orleans to a 10-6 loss that didn't help their playoff bid.

He went to training camp with Seattle in 2001 and got cut before the Bills picked him up that season, and he hit 6 of 8 field goals off the bench. He went back to Seattle for 2002 training camp and got cut, but then the Panthers called when Kasay went down last September.

"That's how it goes in this league," Graham said. "You never really know from one day to the next. I'm glad (Simmons) is here because the familiarity will help. I don't know much about this situation at all. I just got call and here I am."

With plenty of clothes for his first week as a Bengal.

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