Sebastian Janikowski kept career, Raiders legacy alive and kicking after shaky start

The way Sebastian Janikowski’s Raiders career ended will, eventually, fade into irrelevance, and how long and how well he played will overshadow all. Seabass is the best kicker the Raiders have ever had, and one of the best the NFL has ever seen, and he lasted 18 seasons, and he’s the last first-round pick from the 2000 draft to go.

Assuming he really is done, that is. And that assumes that he’s not up for, say, trying a 76-yard field goal, which he did try 10 years ago. After all, Janikowski will not be defined by how reliable he was from 40 or 45 yards (although he was). It was and always has been about lining him up from 65 and feeling confident and reasonable, and not reckless or insane.

His career is unlike any other. But one thing that makes it so, is how unlikely it once seemed that he would just be reaching the end in 2018. If anyone back then would have tried to guess which player from that draft would last the longest, Janikowski would … not have been the guess.

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First to go? Much better odds.

Janikowski had a lot of leg. He had a lot of pretty much everything, often too much. Jon Gruden was his first NFL coach; he didn’t want to use the 17th pick on him. He got overruled by Al Davis in what might be the Al Davis-est of all Al Davis moves, and for those first couple of seasons, Gruden seemed very right.

Gruden would admit the obvious later: He was very wrong. Everybody was. Even though for a while, everybody seemed really right.

There were well-documented incidents involving alcohol while he was playing at Florida State. There was a charge of trying to bribe an officer to get a friend of his out of trouble. There was an arrest on charges of possessing GHB. There were worries about his being deported to his native Poland. All before he even made it to his first Raiders training camp.

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Then there were all the nagging injuries that, combined with the lack of discipline off the field, made all wonder whether the 250-pound body and the head on top of it could conform to the job at hand. He missed games because of a foot infection that was alternately described as cellulitis and gout. The pieces weren’t exactly fitting together for a picture of longevity.

Only three kickers had been taken in the first round before Janikowski, and none has gone that high since. It’s exactly as risky as it sounds now, and as it sounded then. The party-animal factor didn’t exactly even up the odds.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2002, with Janikowski’s status for a playoff game in doubt because of the foot condition: “When you’re drafting a kicker that high — when you’ve made that position that big a priority, when you’ve chosen to buck conventional wisdom that blatantly — you’re drafting dependability, consistency, long-term stability and peace of mind. Or so it would seem; there’s no real track record for what the Raiders did that pivotal April day in 2000. But if that’s what the Raiders were drafting for, it’s not what they got.’’

(Spoiler alert: I’m the one who wrote that.)

Janikowski kicked that week in a win over the Jets, then kicked again in Foxborough in the snow against the Patriots (a fairly infamous game in franchise history). A year later, he kicked in the Super Bowl. During those two postseasons, he was 11 of 12 on field goals and 12 of 12 on extra points. From then until his back injury kept him out all of last year, he missed only one game in 14 seasons.

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Everybody was very wrong.

But no one was ever wrong about whether that left leg (again, just so against the grain) was the Polish Cannon of lore.

Janikowski never failed to live up to the hype. He lived up to it so well that it only increased over the years, long after Gruden had left, Davis had passed away, a parade of coaches and failed draft picks paraded through and the franchise plummeted from the Super Bowl heights to, with a one-season exception, what they are today.

Seabass, the essence of unreliability, became the only constant. He just kept booming, no matter what chaos swirled around him. If it’s all over now, he walks away with more 50-yard field goals than anyone else (55). He’s one of two kickers with two 60-yarders (Greg Zuerlein is the other).

He’s 11th all time in career scoring and 10th all time in field goals made. He shared the record for the longest field goal at 63 yards until Matt Prater hit his 64-yarder in 2013. He tried a 64-yarder in 2007, in Oakland against the Texans. He hit the upright … halfway up the upright.

Janikowski never had an Adam Vinatieri moment (he just had to witness the ultimate one that snowy night in 2002). He only made one Pro Bowl. He did a lot of his work off the dirt infield at ancient dual-purpose Oakland Coliseum. He built that legend in his own way.

He turns 40 in two weeks. He outlasted the old, less-complimentary legend of his early days. Long kicks are a great legacy. An unexpectedly long career is even better.