Originally created 01/16/04

Kasay stays focused on next kick



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As a spiritual man, John Kasay's idea of redemption is a little different than that of your average athlete.

"There are so many challenges that keep coming ahead," Kasay said before citing the words of the Apostle Paul about straining forward to what lies ahead.

"I don't live in the past."

So when Kasay kicks for the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's NFC championship game at Philadelphia, it doesn't matter that he missed three field goals and an extra point against the Eagles in November or that his potential game-ending attempt sliced ever-so-slightly wide right at St. Louis last week.

Nor will it matter that he's had streaks of 21 and 15 successful attempts this season alone or that four of them have been game-winners - including three in overtime.

For the left-footed Kasay, every kick represents an exclusive challenge.

"Each one is kind of its own," Kasay said of every kick dating back to high school at Athens-Clarke Central and college at Georgia. "It's a little different what I do. It really doesn't matter who we're playing. The battle is much more (the snapper, holder) and myself executing as well as we can regardless of who the opponent is.

"There is no more emphasis this week than any other week."

Maybe not in Kasay's mind, but there is a lot more emphasis this week than usual on the Carolina Panthers. For just the second time in the nine-year history of the franchise, the Panthers qualified for the playoffs and both times reached the NFC title game.

Kasay has the chance to join former Chicago Bear Kevin Butler as the only Bulldog kickers to win a Super Bowl. But that's not Kasay's priority.

The only things Kasay takes personally about his kicking are the consequences his performance has on his team. It wasn't himself he felt sorry for on Nov. 30 after his 10 missed points were the difference in a 25-16 loss to Philadelphia. It wasn't his heart that ached when his 6-year-old daughter Caroline greeted him at the door by saying, "Daddy, I saw you miss all those kicks today."

That public scrutiny is what Kasay accepted when he became a place-kicker, because every play he makes is either a success or failure, and he's judged accordingly.

"The consequences are probably a little different at this level," he said, "but I don't try any harder than I did when I was in high school. You want to do well so you give your best. Whatever happens, happens."

Kasay was the target of a journalistic missile this week from a Philly columnist who cites Kasay as Carolina's chief liability this weekend. The attack included a graphic peek inside Kasay's brain to display the "wide right and left lobes, lower yips, flubbus, fearabellum and medulla screwupa." Kasay's training table menu, the story said, includes "pasta bootanesca, lamb shanks, muffins, Swiss Miss and an orange slice."

Clever stuff, but hardly fair to a kicker that ranks among the top-10 most accurate in NFL history with four of his nine career game-winners coming in the past four months.

"I wouldn't trade him for anybody else," Panthers head coach John Fox said.

For good reason. Kasay beat out Eagles kicker David Akers for the Panthers job in 1995 and withstood recent preseason challenges as he proved his strength and accuracy haven't diminished despite three season-ending injuries in the past four years.

The 13-year pro tore the ACL in his plant leg while making a tackle against Green Bay in 1999, then ruptured the kneecap on the same leg during the next preseason. Last year was cut short after just three games by a hernia.

"The injuries I've had are not common (to kickers)," he said. "Very, very easily I could have never played again. I'm very blessed."

As is Carolina to have him as the only original Panther. Kasay came back this season and improved his career field-goal percentage to nearly 81 percent despite a three-game stretch in November where he missed six of 10 attempts. He was a perfect 14-14 in the postseason in his career until his 53-yarder doinked off the upright last week against the Rams and his dead-on game-winner was spoiled by a delay penalty. He barely missed the longer re-kick, but the Panthers won in overtime anyway.

"I know he'll be ready professionally," Fox said. "Whether it's redemption or whatever, you'll have to ask him."

Don't bother. What's behind is behind. Kasay presses on without concern about what his critics might think requires redeeming.

"There's a big challenge ahead of us still," he said. "That's really where my focus is now."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.