John Kasay made a lot of big kicks from 1995-2010 for the Carolina Panthers. He holds team records for games played, points scored and field goals made that likely will never be broken.
But John made an even bigger impact on teammates, fans and co-workers like me. He taught lessons about doing your job, responsibility and how to carry yourself with dignity and class that will never be forgotten.
One of my duties as community relations assistant in 1995 for the Panthers was to schedule player appearances at schools and community events in the Carolinas. As an expansion team, our organization needed guidance on the best way to approach players about participating and how to make the process as easy as possible once they committed.
Who better to talk to than John, an NFL veteran of four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks who was one of the first two unrestricted free agents signed by the Panthers. After a practice early that season, John sat down with me at a table on the concourse at Winthrop Coliseum in Rock Hill, S.C., the team's practice site during the inaugural season. Both journalism majors in college, John and I made an instant connection. We talked, or I should say, he talked and I listened for about 30 minutes.
I took John's advice and successfully applied it. The template for the form that is given to players for an appearance, which was constructed based on John's feedback, is still used today.
John's teammates counted on him, too. A four-time team-captain, he often described his role simply as "kicking a football through two uprights." He did it well, playing in 221 games and scoring 1,482 points for the Panthers. In football, all 11 players on the field have a job to do and must trust the one next to them. John's teammates completely trusted him.
"John was always reliable," wide receiver Steve Smith said. "He was trusting. He was always thoughtful. He was also truthful with grace."
But John was more than a teammate to everybody on the roster. He was a friend, mentor and example to others. Guided by his strong faith, John was somebody players could talk to and go to for advice.
Early in Smith's career, John took Smith under his wing. John, a husband and father of two sons and two daughters, taught Smith about the responsibilities of being the head of household - being a husband and father, decision making and managing finances. John's financial planning advice led to Smith interning for two years at Morgan Stanley.
"That was an area that was unfamiliar to me, and he offered just a whole different perspective," Smith said. "He challenged me. In 2006 or 2007, we actually met once a week for about two and a half months that offseason. It just opened up a door for me. He had a huge impact on my family."
During his 16 seasons with the Panthers, John converted 11 game-winning field goals, including four in Carolina's Super Bowl season of 2003. An extremely humble individual, he shunned the spotlight and deflected credit to others. More often than not when he made a key kick, he did not talk about his success postgame.
On one rare occasion when I remember John openly talking about a game-winning kick, it had more to do with what he had overcome to make the kick and the opportunity to still be playing rather than the kick itself. In December of 1999, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Green Bay. After spending the offseason rehabbing, John was back on the field eight months later. Unfortunately, he fractured his left kneecap on a field goal attempt in his first training camp practice.
So when John connected on a 47-yard game-winning field goal at Indianapolis in 2003, he stood in front of a corner locker at the RCA Dome and, as he had done in the past, gave all of the credit to the Lord for giving him the opportunity. Then he pulled X-rays of his surgically repaired knee out of his duffel bag.
"You know what I've been through," he said. "You know the surgeries and stuff. You know how blessed I am."
On the contrary, if John missed a kick or made a play that adversely affected the outcome of the game, he was the first person to stand up after the game and gracefully talk about what happened. John was never one to make excuses and accepted total responsibility and blame for his failures. For example, when he uncharacteristically missed an extra point and three field goals versus Philadelphia in 2003, John waited for reporters at his locker.
"It's my responsibility to make kicks, and I didn't get it done today," he said. "The thing that is most disappointing to me is I let my teammates down. These guys have battled hard all season to get us in the position we were in for this game, and to let them down today the way I did is very, very disappointing to me."
John was always a favorite among the fans as evidenced by the plethora of No. 4 jerseys in the stands on game days. Fans rooted for John not only because he was a good player but because of the way he carried himself off the field and treated them.
As a youth, John attended many practices at the University of Georgia, where his father was a coach. One day, a famous former Bulldog quarterback returned to Athens to watch practice. An excited and impressionable John ran up to him seeking an autograph only to be rudely turned away. This experience played a role in how John handled autograph requests.
At training camp at Wofford College, John would sign autographs until the horn sounded signaling that it was time for players to come inside. He was consistently the last player remaining as darkness fell on Spartanburg. When the team returned to Bank of America Stadium for Fan Fest, he would often sit in the stands following practice and sign until the last autograph seeker was satisfied.
But there was something else that made getting an autograph from John so special. He politely asked a child's name and personalized his signature. He greeted each fan with a warm and inviting smile. Extremely personable, he made eye contact and engaged in conversation with fans while signing.
"Football was not everything to John," Smith said. "Football was a conduit, a tool that he used to get close to people, to guide people, to help people."