John Kasay was one of the finest gentlemen and best players the Panthers ever employed, and so it was well and good that he signed a one-day contract Tuesday so he could officially retire as a Panther. It's even better that he will remain a part of the Charlotte community as the new athletic director at Charlotte Christian (as well as the football team's special-teams coach).
My favorite stat about Kasay is this: he not only leads the Panthers in scoring, but he is more than 1,000 points ahead of everyone else. Kasay scored 1,482 points in his 16 seasons. Steve Smith is next, with 430.
Kasay remembers the game-winning kicks, yes -- but he also said he liked the "game icers" just as much. Those kicks, when he put a game out of reach and got to enjoy his teammates' reaction for a few more minutes on the sideline, were just as satisfying as the "walk-off kicks," he said.
Almost every Kasay memory that Panther fans have is a positive, because he was so clutch. About the only high-profile one that wasn't? When he hooked a kickoff out of bounds in fourth quarter of the 2003 Super Bowl, with the game tied at 29-all and 1:08 left in regulation. Starting at his own 40 after the kick, Tom Brady got New England into field-goal range and the Panthers lost, 32-29.
Kasay said he "agonized" afterward about that kick, and he knows very well what went wrong.
"I had practiced that kick for years and years and years," said Kasay, who was trying to kick the ball toward the corner to give New England's return man fewer options. "You can try to kick it on a straight line over there. The other way is you can almost bend the ball like in golf... I did both at the same time.... I put some spin on the ball as I aimed over there as well, Because I wanted it to be so perfect. If I had just given myself more of a margin of error… I hit the ball good but when my toe hit the ball I remember thinking, ‘Oh no.'"
I have always believed Brady would have gotten the Patriots into field-goal range even if Kasay had booted the kickoff through the uprights and New England had started from the 20. Brady was just too good that day. And remember this: the Patriots' average drive-start on Kasay's previous kickoffs had been the 27. The errant kickoff likely netted New England only about 13 yards.
Still, it stung Kasay, because he hated so much to let his teammates down -- and he did it so rarely in his career.
As for the future, the 43-year-old Kasay will be a fine AD, and he will eventually be inducted into the Panthers' Hall of Honor. Kasay said Panther owner Jerry Richardson has never talked to him about that -- the only Panther player currently in this very small hall is the late Sam Mills -- but there could be no more fitting recipient than No.4.