The Daily Nole

Sunday Centerpiece: “One of the Guys” — Former FSU Teammates Reflect on the Legendary Career of Sebastian Janikowski

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From the moment he stepped on campus in Tallahassee, there was no doubt that there was something different about kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

The former Florida State All-American stepped away from the game of football last weekend by announcing his retirement after 19 seasons in the NFL, including 18 with the Oakland Raiders. Janikowski retired making more money than any placekicker in league history and his 58 makes of at least 50 yards is an NFL record.

“There was a different sound that came off his balls compared to everyone else,” said Todd Frier, a former FSU defensive back and teammate of Janikowski’s. “There was no doubt there was something different about him. As big as he is, you wouldn’t think he could but he could really slam a basketball. That just shows much how much power he had in his legs. He was a great athlete.”

When Janikowski arrived at FSU in 1997, the kicking legacy for the program was known more for wide rights than makes. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound native of Poland not only changed that legacy during his three years with the Seminoles, but moving forward as well.

“He was a great player,” said Tommy Polley, a linebacker at FSU from 1996 to 2000. “He was a physical freak. That leg was unbelievable. He had more fan fare than the quarterbacks. People really looked forward to seeing him kick.”

Despite all of his talent, Janikowski split time early in his career with redshirt freshman Bill Gramatica. As teammates watched Janikowski however, it seemed only a matter of time before the job was his. Gramatica would ultimately transfer to South Florida before enjoying a 4-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.

“I remember lining the ball up from 50 yards in practice and Sebastian kicked the field goal with 10 or 15 yards to spare,” said Atrews Bell, a receiver for the Seminoles from 1997 to 2001. “I remember people just saying, ‘it was nice knowing you, Bill’. Bill was a great kicker, but Sebastian was just something else.”

By the early parts of October 1997, Janikowski had secured FSU’s placekicking job. Teammates noted that Janikowski was not only a weapon when it came to putting points on the board, but in terms of field position. Frier, a special teams standout, said he would joke that Janikowski’s big leg hurt his tackles numbers.

“We liked going down and making tackles,” Frier said. “We’d say he hurt our stats on the kickoff team, because he put all the kickoffs in the end zone.”

As a freshman in 1997, Janikowski finished 16-for-21 on field goal attempts and 5-for-7 from 40 yards and beyond, which included a then FSU-record 56-yard make in the ACC finale against Wake Forest. One week later, Janikowski celebrated his final make of the regular season in Gainesville by doing the “chomp” followed by a throat-slash after making a 20-yard field goal with less than three minutes to play to extend the FSU lead to 29-25 over Florida in an eventual 32-29 loss — the only blemish of the season for the Seminoles.

“I remember him celebrating by doing the gator chomp after making a big kick,” Bell said. “We were like, ‘look at this guy, what is he doing?'”

During his time in Tallahassee, Janikowski brought a lot of laughs. Frier recalled going line dancing at a venue out in Arizona while the team was preparing for the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 1998 season. Janikowski, he said, liked to wear his cap backwards and wasn’t allowed in the venue until he agreed to turn it around.

“He didn’t see anything different in anyone,” Frier said. “He just wanted to have a good time. Everyone liked him. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who loved being a Seminole more than him. He was just a fun-loving guy.”

After FSU’s 20-3 victory in Chapel Hill over No. 5 North Carolina in 1997, Frier recalled Janikowski asking in an extra jubilant locker room afterward if it was a big game. Polley remembered a practice where Janikowski refused to kick — possibly after a late night — to the chagrin of then linebackers coach Chuck Amato.

“For the whole practice, he refused to kick,” Polley said. “We all had one set of rules. Coach (Bobby) Bowden used to say (Janikowski) was on international rules.”

Bell recalled unknowingly sharing a class with Janikowski. Bell said he didn’t realize that the kicker was in one of his courses until Janikowski showed up for the final exam and asked to borrow his student identification card to be able to take the exam.

“He was so good to be around and just a fun-loving guy,” Polley said. “That was the great thing about Florida State at the time is that we just had so many great players is that everyone was just a regular guy.”

During offseason mat drills, Bell said Janikowski quit one day while holding his right hamstring to indicate he was hurt. The next day, Bell said, Janikowski arrived holding the wrong hamstring.

“I think he had been working out with the tight ends and the fullbacks,” Bell said. “After that, he had his own set of drills.”

After a stellar freshman year in which he garnered Freshman All-American honors from Sporting News, Janikowski begin to garner national attention as a sophomore in 1998. Janikowski finished 27-for-32 on field goal attempts and 10-for-13 from 40 yards and beyond. Janikowski would be named a Consensus All-American and Florida State’s first winner of the Lou Groza Award, which annually goes to the nation’s best kicker.

The title of nation’s best kicker would be one that Janikowski would defend in 1999 as FSU was pushing for a title of its own. That season, the Seminoles completed their first and only perfect season under the legendary head coach Bobby Bowden en route to a second national championship while becoming the first wire-to-wire No. 1.

During Florida State’s 12-0 campaign, Janikowski came through when it mattered time and time again. In a contest deemed the “Bowden Bowl” at Clemson for the father-son coaching match-up of Bobby Bowden and Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden, the Tigers stood as a real threat to the Seminoles’ undefeated season, jumping to a 14-3 lead.

FSU was able to draw even early in the fourth quarter and went ahead for good as Janikowski connected from 39 yards out with 5:26 to play in a 17-14 win. The make would serve as the game-winner in Death Valley to preserve FSU’s undefeated season and give the legendary Bowden his 300th career win.

“He was clutch,” Polley said.

Less than a month later, Florida State saw itself trailing rival Florida 16-13 late in the third quarter in a match-up of top-3 teams when Janikowski lined up to attempt a 49-yard field goal. Janikowski knocked through the kick, but it was negated by a delay of game call. He stayed on the field and calmly drilled a 54-yard kick to tie the game in an eventual 30-23 win for the Seminoles.

“Having that confidence is what I remember,” Frier said. “If we were 60 in, we had confidence he would make it. Those Clemson and Florida kicks were huge. We’re not sure where we would have been without him.”

Nicknamed “Oich” by then offensive coordinator Mark Richt, Janikowski claimed Unanimous All-American honors as a junior in 1999 while winning the Groza Award for the second straight year. Janikowski went 23-for-30 as a junior with a long of 54 yards and didn’t miss a single attempt shorter than 45 yards.

It was wide receiver Peter Warrick who stole the show in Florida State’s 46-29 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship, but Janikowski helped put the game on ice. Up 36-29, Janikowski’s 32-yard field goal with less than 11 minutes to play made it a 2-score game. The final make of his FSU career — an extra point with less than eight minutes to play — made it a 3-score game and essentially put it away.

After declaring early for the NFL Draft, Janikowski became just the third kicker selected in the first round and the first since 1979 when he was taken 17th overall by the Raiders in 2000. That’s where he would spend the next 18 seasons before playing his final season with the Seattle Seahawks.

Polley suspects that Florida State may have won another national championship had Janikowski returned for his senior season. In 2000, FSU suffered losses at Miami and to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, missing three total field goals over those two games. One came as time expired in a 27-24 loss to Miami.

“My senior year, I don’t think we lose to Miami (if Janikowski returns),” Polley said. “He was that important. I don’t think anyone is surprised that he spent almost 20 years in the league.”

Janikowski retires while ranking in the top-10 all-time in made field goals. He’s the only kicker in league history with more than one made field goal of at least 60 yards.

“It wasn’t surprising that he had a great career,” Bell said. “What surprised me is that his leg was as strong as it was for as long as it was.”

In addition to all the made field goals, Janikowski also finished his career with 19 career tackles. Former teammates say that Janikowski never shied away from contact.

“He was tough,” Polley said. “He was more of a football player than he was a kicker. He always wanted to be in the mix. I think he wanted to be a linebacker.”

“I’m sure he would have liked to have been in hitting drills,” Frier said. “He was in the middle of everyone, always uplifting and just a fun guy to be around.”

Bell offered similar sentiments. The notion that kickers are standoffish, Bell said, was never true in the case of Sebastian Janikowski.

“We came in the same class,” the former receiver said. “Everyone just gravitated toward him. He didn’t care where you were from or what your background was, he was definitely one of the guys.”

Although FSU had its share of solid kickers in the past, Janikowski was arguably the beginning of Florida State becoming an elite program when it came to placekickers. With four trophies, FSU has more Lou Groza Awards than any other program. Two decades later, Janikowski remains the only 2-time winner.

“Seeing him break records was amazing,” Frier said. “He was just an awesome teammate. He wanted to immerse himself in everything Florida State. He absolutely loved being a Seminole.”

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at Mike@TheDailyNole.com.

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