NORFOLK, Va. - Tommy Graves was a triple threat at Lake Taylor High School. He played basketball, ran track & field, but his forte was in football.
Colleges were gunning for his commitment.
“If I could play, I was going to play, and I didn’t want to sit on the bench if I could play," Graves told News 3. "Michigan wanted me to sit on the bench for a year. I didn’t want to do that. I had an opportunity to play at Michigan State immediately, if I was good enough.”
Graves was indeed good enough, and by the end of his freshman season, he was named to the 1974 All-Big Ten team. One step closer to achieving his lifelong dream.
“I knew at age 3 I wanted to play professional football, and nothing was going to stop me from doing so, I thought.”
The following year, Graves suffered a setback. He suffered an injury to his knee in practice, and he played on it. He needed surgery in the summer, and the procedure was botched by the surgeon.
“Quite honestly, the guy that ended up fixing my knee told me I needed the operation to walk normally, never to play football again, my career was over at 19.”
After sitting out his junior season, Graves would return to form and finish his Michigan State career the same way it began: as an All-Big Ten defensive back.
In the 1979 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Graves in the eighth round.
“I never played on a team like the Steelers, because when the fans are not all really there, and you can look down the field and see grown men with fear in their eye," Graves said. "They were beat before they even started.”
Graves wound up playing only one season in the NFL, but it was a magical one. The Steelers went 12-and-4, and ended up in Super Bowl XIV, beating the Rams 31-19 in front of the largest Super Bowl crowd in league history.
“Everyday that I got dressed, Joe Greene got dressed on my right, and LC Greenwood got dressed on my left, it doesn’t get no better than that."
Although his time in the league was brief, Graves left the game with a ring, and he hung his helmet up with a playbook full of memories.
“It’s the overall journey that warms my heart when I think back on it all.”