John Kasay retired as a Carolina Panther on Tuesday, a fitting send-off for a kicker who played in more games than anyone in team history.
Kasay signed a one-day contract at Bank of America Stadium, then spoke to reporters at a reception attended by his family, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, members of the team’s front office and several of Kasay’s former teammates.
“I’ve been to these and lots of times they come off more like funerals than they do celebrations. And it really is (a celebration),” Kasay said. “I told Mr. Richardson the reason I wanted to do this is simply I can’t write 70,000 thank you notes. I wish that I could. But this is my feeble attempt to tell everybody thank you.”
Kasay, 43, teared up while talking about his wife Laura, who later described the “nervous Sundays” she spent inside NFL stadiums over her husband’s 21-year career.
Kasay holds more than 20 team records, including the marks for games played (221) and points scored in a season (145 in 1996) and overall (1,482).
Per team policy, Kasay must wait five years before becoming eligible for the Panthers’ Hall of Honor. Kasay said individual honors were never his motivation.
“It’s not why I played,” he said. “I think there are some people that that is a really huge deal for them. I came here to kick.”
Kasay recently was named the athletics director at Charlotte Christian, where two of his four children are enrolled. Kasay also will coach the Knights’ special teams.
Kasay was with Carolina for 15 seasons after playing four years in Seattle, which drafted Kasay in the fourth round in 1991. He signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Panthers in 1995, the team’s inaugural season.
The left-footed Kasay ranks sixth in league history in field goals made (461) and attempted (563), and is tied for second with 42 career field goals of 50 yards or longer.
Kasay said his most memorable kick was the 32-yard field goal that iced a 26-17 win against Dallas on Jan. 5, 1997, in the first playoff game in team history. He agonized over another playoff moment – his kickoff that went out of bounds in Super Bowl XXXVIII, giving New England good field position for Tom Brady’s game-winning drive.
Kickoffs were part of the reason the Panthers released Kasay in the summer of 2011. Former general manager Marty Hurney said the move was made to save a roster spot because Kasay had not kicked off his last couple of years in Charlotte.
After watching a number of veterans get cut as teams prepared for the lockout in 2011, Kasay said his release from the Panthers did not surprise him.
“I was actually joking during that time. During the lockout, a lot of the teams went young. So I said, ‘Well, they put in the database that anybody in their 30s had to be gone.’ Well, I was already over 40 so I didn’t fit,” Kasay said.
“That’s a reality for every one of those guys, especially when you hit 30. You’re just year to year, and that’s just the way it is. I lasted way longer than I thought I would.”
Kasay kicked for New Orleans in 2011 when Garrett Hartley was injured. Kasay said a team called him last season, but he did not want to uproot his family.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said his favorite Kasay moment came in a preseason game in 1999 – for purely selfish reasons. Gettleman, then a Giants’ scout, was scouting the Carolina-New England game the final week of the preseason.
With the score tied late, Kasay drilled a 61-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Panthers to a 23-20 victory and send the scouts home happy.
“Nobody wants to go to overtime in a preseason game,” Gettleman said. “The Panthers got the ball back, and I think John hit a (61-yard) field goal to end the game. Right then and there, if we’d been on the field we would’ve put him on our shoulders. John is a tremendous kicker.”
Bruce DeHaven, the Panthers’ new assistant special teams coach, stopped by the reception Tuesday to wish Kasay well. DeHaven, then with Buffalo, recalled the private workout he gave Kasay in a pop-up rainstorm in Athens, Ga., a few days before the 1991 draft.
“He had to kick in some inclement weather, and he was just perfect,” DeHaven said. “There was no question in my mind that he was going to be a great kicker after that day.”
DeHaven said it broke his heart when Seattle picked Kasay, who played at Georgia, before the Bills could get him in the fifth. Bill Polian was Buffalo’s GM at the time, and was in the same position with the Panthers when they signed Kasay.
“Bill told me four or five years later, ‘I missed you the first time. I’m not going to miss you this time,’ ” Kasay said.
Panthers offensive lineman Jordan Gross said Kasay used to say kickers were to be seen, not heard.
“He never talked in front of the team until he was asked to, and then he would deliver the perfect speech with the perfect voice inflection and the perfect message,” Gross said. “He understood his position so well and his place on the team. And the respect that everybody had (for him) wasn’t through words or force or intimidation. It was because the guy was such a professional and did his job so well.”