The Carolina Panthers’ Ryan Kalil is considered by many to be the best center in football.
But that’s not all there is to Kalil. Entering his 10th NFL season – and already a five-time Pro Bowler – the 31-year-old is the father of three young children and has an interest in the creative arts.
It was Kalil who masterminded a late May trip to New York in which he and tight end Greg Olsen both took their wives to see “Hamilton,” the mega-hit Broadway show about founding father Alexander Hamilton that was created by and stars Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role.
After the show, the group also met Miranda and talked about the musical with him. (A touring production of “Hamilton” will come to Charlotte sometime in the next two years; the dates have not been announced.)
“The guy is a genius,” Kalil proclaimed afterward of Miranda.
Kalil talked about that trip and the Panthers’ offensive prospects in 2016 in our recent one-on-one interview.
Q: So tell me how you decided to go see “Hamilton.”
A: A lot of people were telling me about the play. The original cast is still doing it until July, so we tried to hustle up there to see it before Lin-Manuel was done playing Alexander Hamilton. We went on Ticketmaster and got tickets. We flew up there on a Friday, saw the show Saturday and came back Sunday.
We were all just so amazed – they do that performance eight times a week. They get two weeks off during the year, and that’s it! There’s no real offseason for them. Some days they do two shows. We saw the second show Saturday and it was amazing. I mean Lin-Manuel is great but the whole cast is fantastic – the guy who plays Aaron Burr is named Leslie Odom Jr. and he’s so good, too.
Q: I know Olsen likes Broadway shows and so that makes sense that he went. But how did Blake Griffin end up in that group and in the “Hamilton” picture, too?
A: He’s a buddy of mine.
Q: What is your favorite Broadway play of all time?
A: I’ve seen a lot of plays. I saw “Wicked.” I know the whole soundtrack to “Les Miz” (Les Miserables). My favorite play was definitely “Les Miz” before this. But “Hamilton” just trumped it.
Q: I’m a Broadway fan too – I loved “Rent” and “The Book of Mormon” – but I didn’t know you were into that sort of stuff.
A: There’s a lot of stuff I’m into that you don’t know.
Q: Like what?
A: A lot of the arts. I love the arts.
Q: Did that start with your family?
A: Yeah. My mom was a singer and she performed in plays. My grandmother was an artist and she drew. Now on my Dad’s side of the family, there was none of that whatsoever. It was all sports. So it was a good cultural mesh of the two.
Q: OK, back to football. How does the offensive line look out there?
A: It’s always tough to gauge just by helmets, but in terms of playbook understanding, I think we’re in a good place compared to past years. Obviously the continuity is a big part of that. I’m proud of the attitude my group has. Offensively this is a team that we have to feel like we’re starting over, that nothing we did last year counts. I think that’s healthy.
Q: Do you still think a lot about the Super Bowl or have you parked it in some corner of your mind?
A: I’ve done a better job of compartmentalizing it. But it still stings – to go that far and then to come up short like that. It was just not a good day for us and it’s the wrong part of the season for that to happen. I think most guys would say the same thing. Once the season gets over again you can kind of, somewhat, get over it. But he’s not over it (Kalil gestures at linebacker Thomas Davis, who has walked up to listen to our interview). And I’m not over it either.
Q: Are you glad the Panthers open at Denver on Sept. 8?
A: It doesn’t really matter. You have to play the Broncos sometime this season. That’s not the same team we played in the Super Bowl, though, and nothing from that game is going to affect the outcome of what happened last year. What matters is this year – winning the division again.
Q: Can you lead the NFL in points scored again?
A: Yeah. I don’t think it’s impossible. It’s not an easy task, though. I think the best thing we can do is not worry about that and just focus on winning football games. If you do a good job of that, all the other stuff falls into line. I think it’s a nice thing to do and guys are proud of it. But the biggest thing is finding ways to win because it’s tough to have success, week in and week out, in this league.
Q: Can you win 17 games again?
A: The smartest goal is to win the division. Whether the division has been bad or good, it doesn’t matter. Whether we’ve had to win seven games to win it or 12 games to win it, that’s what we’ll do and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
Q: Do you have any other big offseason plans?
A: Not really. We have a house back in California, and that’s where most of my family is. I have three kids now – they are 5, 3 and 2 – and I love for them to be around their family. All their cousins and grandparents are out there. The 5-year-old starts kindergarten in Charlotte in the fall. I’m healthy. Everything’s great.
(Kalil starts to walk toward a team meeting, then turns back one more time.) But listen, I’m telling you and everybody else who reads this: Go see “Hamilton.” It’s amazing.