NSJ Play of the Year: Panthers’ Gano nails 63-yard winning kick

Carolina kicker steals a win with record-setting effort

Carolina Panthers' Graham Gano celebrates his game-winning field goal against the New York Giants on Oct. 7 in Charlotte. (Jason E. Miczek / AP Photo)

Sixty-three yards.

One hundred eighty-nine feet.

On Oct. 7, Cam Newton found Christian McCaffrey for an 18-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that seemed to put away a win over the visiting Giants.

New York rallied, however, wiping out the Panthers’ 11-point lead — it had been as much as 14 in the first half — and took a one-point lead with 1:08 left to play.

Carolina’s last-minute drive didn’t even make it to midfield, thanks to some odd play-calling. Newton completed two passes in the middle of the field, eating up valuable time and forcing the team to use its final timeout. Then the team called a run play to get a first down and spiked the ball with six seconds left.

It appeared the team would have to try a desperation throw as time expired.

The Hail Mary would come not from Newton’s arm, however, but from the leg of a 31-year-old 202-pounder from Florida State.

Kicker Graham Gano took the field and calmly knocked down a 63-yard game winning field goal with room to spare.

Sixty-three yards.

A 28th of a mile.

He became the sixth kicker to connect from that far out and set the record for longest boot to win a game. Gano topped his previous career best by four yards, kicked the longest field goal in the NFL in nearly five years and tied for the second-longest field goal of all time.

Sixty-three yards. 

For 15 years at the start of the 20th century, the Independence Building — generally considered Charlotte’s first skyscraper — was the tallest building in the city. It’s height? Sixty-two yards.

The kick set off a wild on-field celebration as Gano was mobbed by teammates.

“I just tried to run away from everybody so I didn’t get jumped on,” Gano said. “That was madness. That’s the only word I can use to explain it. … I was going nuts.”

Quarterback Cam Newton, who always makes sure to tap his kicker’s helmet after a successful field goal or point after, couldn’t reach Gano in the throng.

“I tried,” he said, “but a melee broke out.”

Sixty-three yards.

Nearly 19 stories.

In addition to be the NSJ Play of the Year, Gano’s kick was a high point for the Carolina Panthers’ season. The team saw a 6-2 start to the year disintegrate with a long losing streak and injuries to Newton and, yes Gano, who was put on injured reserve after missing several kicks during the losing streak.

But for one day in October, he was the hero. The moment will keep him in the record books for years to come.

“A wise man once told me, a quarterback is only as good as his kicker,” Newton said.

Sixty-three yards.

It would take Usain Bolt more than 5½ seconds to run that far, Michael Phelps more than 33 seconds to swim it.   

Gano kicked from the left hash, and the ball hooked, passing through the goal posts just inside the right upright. According to Pythagoras, that means the ball actually traveled longer than 63 yards, by about 11 inches. It took 2¾ seconds to cover the distance, for a speed of just over 58 mph. That’s 2 mph faster than Cam Newton’s fastest throw, as timed by ESPN’s Sports Science back when he was in college.

“Graham put the whole team on his back today,” Newton said. “Well, on his toe.”

Also Considered: Wake Forest backup quarterback Jamie Newman’s game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds left for an upset win at NC State; NC State wrestler Michael Macciavello two-point takedown with 14 seconds left to erase a one-point deficit and win the NCAA title at 197 pounds.