The Aug. 12 preseason opener for the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro – the first game Chad Graff ’12 was slated to cover for The Athletic as a new writer on the Patriots beat – wasn’t the most important home event on Graff’s schedule that day.
Graff had only days before returned to the region he grew up in as part of an impromptu homecoming and quick transition from his previous position covering the Minnesota Vikings. His wife and daughter remained in Minnesota packing the rest of their belongings, and Graff was juggling his new work responsibilities with the not-inconsequential task of pondering places for his family to live – hours before the season’s first game kicked off.
“That was day one with the Realtor before the preseason game that night,” Graff says. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind. The opportunity came about quickly, so there was a lot of stress, trying to decide if this was the right decision or not. But once we kind of wrestled over it a little bit, we thought it would be really good to be back near our families.”
Indeed, Graff and his wife, Samantha (Currier) Graff ’12, are both native New Englanders, having met in high school in Manchester, New Hampshire, before attending UNH together. After nearly a decade building a life in Minnesota, the pull of having family and friends close by – particularly while raising daughter Riley, who is one – was too much to pass up.
“We ended up loving our time in Minnesota, so much so that it wasn’t a super easy, slam-dunk decision to come back,” Graff says. “Once we thought about it, we knew it was the right decision, but we wouldn’t trade our time there for anything.”
Graff headed straight for the Twin Cities after graduating from UNH, taking a job at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, where he covered the NHL’s Minnesota Wild for four years.
He would transition to covering the Vikings at the newspaper before making the decision to join The Athletic, which at the time was a fairly new venture that had debuted only in certain markets throughout the U.S., with Minnesota being one of the first.
The subscription-based website, built on a premise of offering ad-free content and a mix of longer-form reporting and features with traditional daily sports coverage, has since flourished.
Given the shaky state of the newspaper industry, “when that opportunity came, I kind of jumped at it. And it worked out even better than I could have hoped,” Graff says.
The Patriots beat will represent something of a significant change, as even though The Athletic does well in both the Minnesota and New England markets – both are among the top 10 most viewed regional sections of the site – the Boston-area sports market is saturated with reporters and media personalities from dozens of outlets that follow the team on a daily basis, feeding a notoriously engaged fan base.
"I loved that whole experience (at UNH), and I made some awesome friends who are still really good friends to this day."
“It’s been pretty eye-opening seeing the difference between the Boston and Minnesota markets,” Graff says. “I showed up for a Bill Belichick press conference and there were about 25 cameras there compared to five or so in Minnesota.”
Graff looks back fondly on his time at UNH, and the experience he had working for The New Hampshire student newspaper, in particular. He recalls sometimes being in the office until 2 or 3 a.m. putting issues together and the bonds he formed with fellow staffers in that environment – including Zack Cox ’12, who now covers the Patriots for NESN.
“I loved UNH. It was sad leaving – I still remember my drive to Minnesota, I left straight from our house at the Cottages,” Graff says. “I loved that whole experience, and I made some awesome friends who are still really good friends to this day.”
Graff says he’s hoping to reconnect with many of those friends now that he’s back in the area, just one of the draws that led to the transition – including having “some built-in babysitters” in his and Samantha’s nearby families.
Between the professional opportunity to work in the market he grew up in and the proximity to important people in his life it’s safe to say Graff is excited about just about everything involved in moving back to New England.
Including … winter?
“I was joking the other day it will be nice to walk outside and have it be 27 degrees instead of 27-below,” Graff quips.