After 18 years with the Oakland Raiders, Sebastian Janikowski has kicked his last field goal in Silver and Black. His career was a rollercoaster, as he has been deemed underappreciated, overrated, feared by opposing teams for his big leg, and frustrating by fans for his inconsistency.
It kinda sucks that the career of Sebastian Janikowski with the Oakland Raiders is ending just as Jon Gruden’s is starting back up. We don’t get enough real-life stories where neatly-tucked, Hollywood-polished endings play out — and were this indeed a screenplay, it’d feel criminally incomplete without these two major franchise characters reuniting after almost two decades to see the Raiders off to glory once more.
But it’s also fitting in a way, because nothing about Seabass has ever been kempt or manicured or as it’s supposed to be. Kickers have a place in football — that place isn’t in the first round of a draft, or as the model of modern NFL job security, and doesn’t feature nicknames or fans proudly wearing your jersey. And yet, Sebastian Janikowski existed, embodied and laid claim to all of those things for the Raiders during a football lifetime that has spanned nine head coaches and almost twice as many quarterbacks.
That type of longevity is usually indicative of a high degree of sustained excellence. Jano was certainly among the top three or five legs in the league for the vast majority of his career, but even at his peak he toed the line of being called “reliable”, and was a definite step or two away from “automatic”.
“The Polish Cannon” was indeed just that — more power than accuracy, more brute force than precision. An 80% lifetime field goal percentage is far from poor, but what entrenched Seabass in legend was the looming possibility that he could nail one from 60 if you just so happened to ask. That was more than could be said of even the most accurate kickers, and the threat of it alone made his presence nearly invaluable to the Raiders and their fans for every minute of his career in the Silver and Black.
It’s impossible to tell whether that sense of security cultivated a lackadaisical approach to his job in the latter years. Janikowski did the bulk of his work for Raiders teams who weren’t going anywhere of consequence and who also shared no real delusions about that fact. On the other hand, he was literally bred to kick (his father was a professional soccer player here in the States), and made booting footballs across stadiums look easy to the point of insult. If he did indeed work hard at honing his craft, it was certainly reflected in his procuring high-dollar contracts relative to his position. And if he slacked a bit during that time…well, with extended residency in the dysfunctional misery pit that was the Oakland Raiders for more than a decade, can we really blame him for partying a little harder than he played?
Such is the balance of things, and as the stakes rose with the Raiders fielding legitimately competitive teams around him over the course of the past few seasons, the true reliability of Jano’s leg became less of footnote and more a tangible concern. The writing on the wall was never more legible than days before the start of the 2017 season, when reports of a contract dispute between the Raiders and Janikowski made news. It was the appropriate punctuation to an offseason riddled with weird headlines, and a reminder for both fans and Sebastian himself that no matter how hard we may fight internally or externally for things to stay the same, change will eventually pin us all to the mat.
But it speaks to the respect that he has within the organization, and the subtle, sometimes silly serendipity that has graced his entire career, that rather than have the relationship between he and the Raiders end on acrimonious, unceremonious terms, Jano just sort of gently passed down the mantle to Giorgio Tavecchio, spending his last season in Oakland in street clothes on IR and openly cheering on his potential successor. That gave all parties the opportunity to process the end of an era peacefully, without the feeling that a family member was being thrown out onto the street.
Sebastian Janikowski is the last of Al Davis’ renegades — a walking, breathing example of the owner’s perpetual defiance, his maniacal brilliance and his refusal to accept the world’s convention as law. And Jano did all of that by simply showing up and being himself for seventeen seasons.
No player in the history of the organization has ever been a Raider longer than Janikowski was, and the truth may be, in fact, that no other player ever deserved to be.