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WhoDat!656 02-11-2012 06:35 AM

Jimmy Graham on USA Network's NFL Characters unite
Who, besides opposing linebackers, doesn’t want to be pals with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham?

Astin Randall, 14, got the chance thanks to cable’s USA Network. Their friendship is profiled in a new special, “NFL Characters Unite,” airing at 6 p.m. Friday (Feb. 10).

Graham is one of four NFL figures involved in the project, which is part of the network’s long-running “Characters Unite” public-service campaign aimed at battling prejudice and discrimination.

For the special, Graham, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy -- all of whom overcame social adversity early in life – are paired with youngsters dealing with similar challenges.

According to the network, Randall lost his father to murder and his mother to drug addiction and was entering the foster-care system when teamed with Graham through the Boys Town Louisiana New Orleans center.

“He’s gone through more than I can even imagine, more definitely than I’ve gone through,” said Graham, who lived in group homes and foster care as a child. “He’s so smart, so driven. Some of the things he’s told me from his story, it’s pretty amazing. He’s a great kid, and he definitely reminds me of myself. It’s definitely a great relationship.”

Graham’s use of present tense is accurate. Though the special was filmed in early December, Graham and Randall have stayed in touch.

“He has my number,” Graham said in a Thursday (Feb. 9) phone interview. “He has my email. He also has my manager’s contacts and he knows that if he can’t get in touch with me, he can call her and she will immediately find me. That has happened a couple of times, and that’s awesome.

“I said, ‘Listen, I’m not one of those people who are here today and you don’t see tomorrow. If you need anything, ever, you call me. I’ll be there for you and help you as best I can.’”

One visit was a trip to the movies, including some pre-show arcade time.

Picture that scene. Few New Orleanians are more currently adored by men and women and boys and girls of all ages than Jimmy Graham.

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