As a sports fans from the United Kingdom today is a bit of a strange one for me. In our football, which I will henceforth (reluctantly may I add) refer to as soccer the number 9 jersey is held in the highest of regards. Some of the greatest players to play the game have worn this number. As a child you wanted to grow up and emulate the heroes you watched week in, week out wearing number 9. However in the NFL the 9 jersey is just like any other. There are not many high profile players wearing this number in the league, and we've knocked off probably the two biggest, Tony Romo and Drew Brees, in recent weeks, which is an added bonus.
As a British Panthers fan however, there is only one direction I was ever taking today's piece.
Number 9 - Graham Gano
Born in Britain, great on Twitter and started out as a soccer star - what's not to like about this guy?
His Father was in the US Navy and was stationed in Scotland and Gano was born in Dundee, which is about 250 miles away from where I live to a Scottish mother. He grew up with a strong Scottish accent and can still do it very well. His was on the move for his first 8 years moving from Scotland to Canada, back to Scotland, and then out to Germany for a spell. With European roots his dreams were set on Soccer, and stated on the 'This is Gross' podcast back in 2013 that he had aspirations of representing the Scottish national team, for which he would have been a totally different number 9.
He eventually settled in Pensacola, Florida and started playing football in high school, where his coach Charlie Armstrong, a 34 year veteran, said of Gano "he was head and shoulders above a normal kid" and "the sound of the ball when he hits it was just different than anything I'd ever seen. Sometimes it sounded like a gun was shot."
Gano was a stand out kicked in college leading the ACC in field goal percentage in 2008 with 92.31%, becoming the first FSU kicker in history to convert over 90% in a season. He also holds the Seminoles record for 50+ yard field goals, banging in 5 consecutive. He finished 2008 as the nation's top placekicker and was therefore awarded the Lou Groza award.
His professional career hasn't always been plain sailing though. Having gone undrafted in the 2009 draft he was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens who had just named NC State kicker Steve Hauschka as their starter and Gano was waived. He wound up on the Las Vegas Locomotives team in the UFL and kicked the field goal which won them the Championship, leading the league in scoring. He then spent three years fighting for his spot in the Washington Redskins team before being cut.
Ron Rivera picked Gano up in November 2012 and he has been good for us. In his, almost, four season he has missed only two kicks from less than 40 yards and has nailed some hugely important field goals, including 10 from 50 yards or more. Most recently of course was the 52 yarder in overtime versus the Colts to hand us the win, and with it move to 7-0. He won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month award for November following in the footsteps of John Kasay who won it in 1996.
He did however create a little bit of unwanted history last time out versus the Saints when he became the first kicker in NFL history to have an extra point blocked and returned for a two point score.
He may not be the typical number 9 I grew up idolizing, but if he kicks us to a perfect season and beyond he may just be the one I teach my son to love. Not bad for a Brit.
By Dan Rawlinson