If Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the final moments, Panthers kicker Graham Gano hopes it involves a field goal attempt. And that he’s the kicker lining up to take it.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that since I first started playing,” Gano said this week in Santa Clara, Calif., where Carolina is set to Denver in Super Bowl 50. “I am hoping for it. So hopefully it does come down to that. I hope that every game, and that's what makes my job the most fun.”
Yep, that’s the same Graham Gano that kicked for the Redskins from 2009-2011. The same one that bounced back from a shaky few years in Washington to become one of the league's steadiest kickers. In fact, the 28-year-old was ranked by ProFootballFocus.com as the game's second most effective kicker in 2015.
The Redskins’ revolving door at kicker has stopped—for now—thanks to a solid season by Dustin Hopkins. But I still occasionally wonder ‘what if?’ when Gano’s name comes up.
Gano had an NFL-high five field goals blocked in 2011 and was shown to the door at the end of training camp the following year. He was replaced by Billy Cundiff, who was replaced by Kai Forbath, who was replaced by Hopkins.
Gano, meanwhile, landed in Carolina late in the 2012 season and has carved out a nice little career for himself.
This season, however, has been of a mixed bag for the Florida State product, who finished second in the NFL in scoring with 146 points. He’s converted 33 of 39 field goal attempts, including the playoffs. He had some kicks blocked early in the season (opponents anticipating the snap count was a problem) but he’s also been clutch, delivered a game-winners against the Colts, in OT, and the Giants, as time expired, to help the Panthers stay unbeaten through 14 games.
Gano’s biggest strength, though, may be his big leg. This season, he ranked first (tied with New England’s Stephen Gostkowski) for forcing the most touchbacks on kickoffs with 69, which played a major role in Gano finishing second behind Baltimore’s Justin Tucker in ProFootballFocus.com’s overall rankings.
Another strength that’s helped Gano last the past three-plus season in Carolina? His poise under pressure. Which, of course, might be tested if Sunday’s game does, indeed, come down to a last second field goal.
“I don’t get nervous,” Gano said. “I used to get nervous earlier on in my career, but I have been playing for 7 or 8 years now. Even two weeks ago in the NFC Championship, I think at the beginning I had a few butterflies in my stomach, but I think you only get nervous if you aren’t prepared and we do a good job preparing.”