ORLANDO, Fla. -- All season long, he was the face of Florida State's special teams. Well, maybe not the face, precisely.
Phil the Foot, a retired prosthetic leg outfitted with kicker/punter Graham Gano's knee brace, holder Shawn Powell's shoe and one of backup kicker James Esco's long socks, became a cult icon on FSU's campus this fall after the school newspaper profiled him. Every game, he stood sentinel atop the specialists' equipment case. In Tallahassee, Phil never once had to pay for a tube of athlete's foot cream.
Though the specialists who created him appreciated Phil for his contributions, they couldn't help but feel a little jealous of his notoriety. "Phil? It's a tough battle to beat Phil," Gano said. "He's got a leg on him."
Saturday, Gano finally eclipsed the phenomenon he helped create. Gano, who won the Lou Groza Award earlier this month for his field-goal kicking prowess, pinned Wisconsin inside the 3-yard line three times in the first quarter of the Seminoles' 42-13 Champs Sports Bowl win. For his efforts -- which also included a second-quarter punt that forced Wisconsin to start from its 7-yard line -- Gano was named the bowl's MVP.
"He's probably the MVP of the team all year long," FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said.
That last comment had to gnaw at Phil like a termite, but the numbers don't lie. After missing FSU's first two games with a knee injury, Gano went on to make 24 of 26 field goals, including a streak of 18 consecutive. Saturday, he kept FSU competitive until the offense and the defense finally awoke late in the second quarter. His first punt went out-of-bounds at the Wisconsin 3-yard line. His second hit the 1-yard line and stopped like a Tiger Woods sand wedge shot.
"That was the most amazing thing," long snapper Zack Aronson said. "That thing pretty much died."
Had Gano punted more this season, he would have qualified for consideration for the Ray Guy Award. At any rate, he deserves a daytime Emmy for Best Acting in a Mid-Level Bowl Game. With FSU up 21-6 in the third quarter, Gano jumped off his plant leg as Wisconsin defensive end Louis Nzegwu floated horizontally beneath Gano's kicking leg. Gano threw himself backward, and though Nzegwu never touched Gano, referee Michael Batlan whipped his flag at Gano's lifeless body. The drive continued, and FSU scored four plays later on a Carlton Jones run.
With a smile, Gano urged viewers to watch the play again during an ESPN interview. Still, even if his acting Saturday doesn't land him a role on Days of our Lives, his kicking should help land him a job on Sundays next fall. "Graham Gano probably made a lot of money tonight," FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford said.
With Gano gone, Phil the Foot can retake his rightful place as FSU's most popular special-teamer. But for one night, a kicker got the credit he deserved for making his entire team better. Phil was unavailable for comment Saturday night. A member of FSU's sports information team said Phil had a nasty case of turf toe.
Muffle It: In honor of West Virgina's win against North Carolina in the Meineke Bowl, maybe it's time to declare a moratorium on the sniping from WVU fans at Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart.
Yes, Stewart lost to East Carolina. Yes, he looked lost late in a loss at Colorado. And the Mountaineers probably should have beaten Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. But Stewart beat a quality, on-the-rise team on Saturday to cap a nine-win season. It's not the season WVU fans hoped and dreamed of, but it wasn't the unmitigated disaster that seemed to loom after the debacle in Boulder.
So, for the next few months, stop ripping the dude. Give him a chance to bring in a recruiting class all his own. See how Stewart handles a world without Pat White. If, after the Sept. 26 return date with Colorado, Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen still make you long for the couch-igniting days of Rich Rodriguez, fire away.
For now, cut Stewart a break.