Old habits might die hard, but apparently a couple of unsportsmanlike penalties and an earful from an angry coach are enough to modify an NFL superstar's behavior.
New Orleans Saints All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, penalized twice in Friday's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans for dunking the ball over the goalpost after scoring touchdowns, conceded he needs to find a new celebration, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"For four years and however many touchdowns, I always dunked it," Graham said. "I just got to stop doing that now."
Graham was also seen catching heat on the sideline from head coach Sean Payton.
Graham and Payton met over the weekend, the Times-Picayune reported, and apparently found common ground on the issue.
"I'm his biggest fan," Payton said. "I'm sure as we get going here that type of thing isn't going to be a problem. Rules are changing constantly whether we like them or voted for them or any of those things. He's outstanding. He'll be ready to go."
Graham was a two-sport star in football and basketball at the University of Miami, and though he's fashioned an excellent career as a professional on the gridiron, his signature dunk -- first popularized by another two-sport college star, the recently retired tight end Tony Gonzalez -- was an apparent nod to his hardwood roots.
The routine had seemed little more than a humorous footnote to six more points for the high-scoring Saints offense, but a bizarre incident late last season may have been a tipping point in the NFL's long-running game of Whac-A-Mole to stamp out inflammatory and overly orchestrated touchdown celebrations.
Graham caused a brief delay when he bent a goalpost with his celebratory dunk after scoring a 44-yard touchdown against the Falcons in November, and the league responded in the offseason by banning the move altogether.
Whether Graham disregarded or simply forgot the new rule on Friday is unclear -- Payton's remarks seem to indicate Graham may have brushed aside the edict in the inconsequential preseason game. But, Graham seems to have resolved to break himself of the practice.
We'll be watching once the regular season kicks off. The Saints open the season at Atlanta on Sept. 7.