The saga of Panther kicker Graham Gano and the trombone player from Bethune-Cookman that he pushed out of the way at halftime Monday is getting a happy ending.
Gano felt very bad about the incident after Sunday's game and asked me in the Panthers' locker room to try to track down the trombone player, because he wanted to talk to him in person and apologize. I did that Monday with the help of longtime band director Donovan Wells, who says Gano's push was "no harm, no foul, no malice" and that the Panther kicker has "been getting a bad rap" on social media (where the video of Gano's push has gone viral).
The trombone player turns out to be 18-year-old Marquel Ballard, a freshman trombonist from Atlanta who is so good that he's on partial scholarship and also has made the marching band as a freshman -- which the band director says is difficult to do.
"We were both just doing our jobs, and our paths crossed," Ballard told me when I reached him by phone Monday. "I think it's kind of funny now."
With the permission of Ballard and Wells, I gave Ballard's phone number to Gano. They talked Monday afternoon and both came away feeling much better after that conversation, which included Gano apologizing and being forgiven by Ballard.
"We're cool," Ballard said. Gano tweeted out after the conversation that "all is forgiven" and called Ballard an "extremely talented trombonist."
Gano also offered Ballard two field passes and tickets for the Panthers' game at Atlanta Dec.28th, because Ballard is from Atlanta and is a Falcons fan. Ballard said he hopes to take that offer but "it depends on what the band is doing, because I love the band."
Wells said that Bethune-Cookman has never previously been late for a gig in his 18-year career as its band director. But what is normally a three-hour drive from Daytona Beach, Fla., to Tampa, took more than four hours because of a horrific storm that slowed the seven charter buses carrying 330 band members to 10 miles per hour in some stretches.
The band had to literally run from its buses onto the field and didn't get there until about 3 minutes and 30 seconds remained in the 12-minute halftime. By then, Gano was already back on the field practicing kicks. The band took its spots around him and started playing and dancing while Gano was kicking, and two pushes -- "really one nudge and one push," Ballard said -- ensued as Gano tried to get in his practice kicks despite the band playing all around him.
"It was a difficult situation for everyone," Wells said. "But I understand what Gano was doing, and what Marquel was doing, too. I thought they were both pros about it."
"I regret that it happened," Gano said, "but I am very impressed that Marquel never broke stride. He just kept playing."
1 year ago