High school track speedster. Punter and placekicker at Florida State. An early-career pitstop in the UFL. Long-time Carolina Panthers placekicker. Back in the NFL with the New York Giants after what might have been a career-ending leg injury.
It’s been quite a journey for Graham Gano. He spent some time Thursday talking exclusively to Big Blue View about it. Here is our Q&A.
Ed: Do you still have some wheels?
[Per his Wikipedia page, the now 33-year-old Gano captured three Florida state titles in track at the 2005 FHSAA 3A District 1, winning the 100-meter dash, with a time of 10.55 seconds, the 200-meter dash, with a time of 21.70 seconds, and the 400-meter dash, with a time of 48.00 seconds.]
Graham: “Yeah, I can still run a little bit. Probably not like I used to but I’ve been telling Mr. Gettleman here I still have some speed. Hopefully I don’t have to use that any time this year on a kickoff return or anything like that. I try to stay in shape, but I’m around elite athletes all day so I doubt I’m that fast.”
Ed: Would you lobby for a chance to get a carry on a trick play?
[Gano has never gotten an NFL carry]
Graham: “I’ve lobbied for it for a long time. When I was in Carolina and I would lobby for a fake they told me for some reason they’d rather have the ball in Cam [Newton’s] hands on fourth down than mine. I feel like it’s the same here. That won’t stop me from lobbying for it.”
Ed: When you got hurt (a left leg injury) did you fear for your career?
Graham: “I wasn’t sure if I’d play again. It was a pretty significant injury. At the same time I was happy with what I had done in my career. Of course I’d love to keep playing, but in my mind I was going to rehab and train as if I was going to be able to play again and just see how it went.
“Dr. Riley Williams at HSS [Hospital for Special Surgery] did a fantastic job with the surgery and he was really excited with how it turned out so I was confident in that.”
Ed: What was the injury?
Graham: “I actually broke my femur. It was kind of a unique surgery on it to repair it. It ended up working out really well. I’m back feeling really good now.”
Ed: Your wife gave birth to twin girls last year. Because of being injured, being let go by Carolina and dealing with the pandemic you got a lot of family time. Was all of that really a blessing?
Graham: “After the injury, I couldn’t control that. The way I looked at it I always try to find the positives in situations that might be looked at as negatives. The way my wife and I looked at it it was an opportunity I had to be home with her and the babies. That’s something with my sons, we have five kids, so my three boys I wasn’t able to be there for some of their earlier times in life, so it was a blessing in disguise. Obviously you never want to get hurt, but at the same time that time that I got to spend with my wife and our kids was really special.
“It definitely was special having that, but also being able to have the opportunity to play again and getting picked up here by the Giants was a blessing as well.”
Ed: How much was coach [Thomas] McGaughey part of the attraction of coming to the Giants?
[Gano played for McGaughey in Carolina]
Graham: “Without a doubt. There’s quite a few teams we were looking into and interested in. Knowing Mr. Gettleman and some of the guys up here — I played with David Mayo and i was familiar with Casey (Kreiter) and Riley (Dixon) from watching them over the years and knowing that T-Mac was here and Coach Quinn that was definitely a factor in it.”
Ed: What is your relationship with Dave Gettleman and your thoughts on the criticism he gets?
Graham: “My relationship with him has always been great. Obviously he built a great team down there in Carolina that went to the Super Bowl. I think he does a good job.”
Ed: Is it kind of cool having a former special teams coach as your head coach?
Graham: “It’s awesome. His [Joe Judge’s] special teams units were always the best, the hardest to game plan against. You knew that whenever you went up against them you were going to be going up against a well-coached group of guys.”
Ed: You’ve had a number of head coaches in your career. What stands out about Coach Judge? What makes you believe he will be successful?
Graham: “I think he’s going to be very successful. I’ve seen from the start his knowledge of the game is fantastic. The guys really buy in to the things that he’s saying. I think you can tell when people aren’t sincere. He’s got a passion about the game and I feel like we should have been doing a lot better this year team-wise. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and you can put that on the players. We could play better and win games. We’re just keeping on grinding and i think we know we’ve got a better team here than what we’ve shown. I think he’s been doing a great job.”
Ed: What gives you hope or belief that this group is going to get it right eventually?
Graham: “I see the way guys work. Folks outside the organization don’t get to see that. You don’t get to see the work guys put in every day and the attitude. I think a lot of it from what I’m seeing is character. When I was in Carolina my time there they did a really good job of bringing in great character guys. I think that’s one thing I notice here. If you’ve got a great group of guys with great character that are going to work hard I think that goes a long way and you can build on that.”
Ed: You punted at Florida State. Could you have been a full-time NFL punter?
Graham: “Yeah, for sure. Coming out of college actually I only kicked one year as a field goal kicker in college. I punted mostly, so most of the attention I got coming out from teams was to be a punter.
“I had one NFL coach, I won’t says who it is, but he actually told me that I would never make it in the NFL as a field goal kicker and that I was wasting my time when I actually needed to focus on punting and kicking off because that would be where my career was headed.
“I kinda took that as motivation a little bit and just went with it. It added a little fuel to the fire.
“I was a punter for a while but I wanted to be a field goal kicker because after that one year in college having the rush of scoring points and having a little bit more pressure on you I loved it.”
Ed: Little controversy lately over the field at MetLife Stadium. Would you rather kick on grass or on turf?
Graham: “I don’t mind kicking on either. The teams I’ve played for in the past have been grass, but I actually love turf. I feel like the turf at MetLife is the best, absolutely THE BEST I’ve ever played on. Obviously with everything going on in the league, the conversations about our stadium, the guys in the locker room here were surprised by it because we practiced on it a bunch of times and had already played a game on it and we didn’t have any trouble ... it’s the best turf I’ve ever kicked on.”
Ed: When a baseball player hits a ball perfectly on the barrel there is a specific sound. Is there a similar sound or feeling when you strike a kick perfectly?
Graham: “There’s definitely a feel. I can feel whenever I hit a ball solid. You can also feel whenever you don’t hit it well. It’s hard to explain. It’s a feeling I guess you have to experience.
“As far as hearing it there’s not a whole lot that I hear during the game. Whenever I give the head nod to Riley for the ball to be snapped everything kinda goes quiet for me.”
Ed: Did you actually make a 71-yard kick in high school? Did I read that right?
Graham: “Yeah. I think we were playing Woodham High School in Pensacola. It was so long ago it’s hard for me to remember. I know that’s what Wikipedia says. I remember we hit the kick and it was a District game and I think Woodham had jumped offsides. Our coach wanted to win the game, he took the penalty and we got a first down. That woulda been a fun one to have on the resume, but at the same time you want to win games.”
Ed: What is it like playing games that matter in empty stadiums?
Graham: “It’s really weird. It’s eerie. Kinda strange. We definitely miss it [fans]. Everybody really plays for the fans, we wouldn’t have a league if it wasn’t for them so just playing in an empty stadium is kinda odd.”
Ed: Keeping Lawrence Tynes out of this (since you guys are friends) give me three specialists — returners, punters, placekickers — you’d like to have dinner with?
Graham: “Devin Hester, Sebastian Janikowski, Morten Anderson.”