As a franchise, the Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders have always gone against the grain.
If conventional wisdom says not to do something, the Raiders will do it anyway.
Take, for example, the Raiders’ pick in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
When it came time for their selection, Oakland shocked the world when it took Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
Name a kicker.
We've got Sebastian Janikowski pic.twitter.com/rr4RPdlUzy
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) May 27, 2023
Janikowski was highly regarded, but taking a kicker in the first round is practically sacrilegious in the NFL.
That didn’t matter to Oakland, though, since they needed a substantial upgrade in the special teams department.
Before arriving in the NFL, Janikowski was known for his powerful leg and his mega personality.
After struggling as a rookie, leading some to wonder if the Raiders made a huge mistake, Janikowski became one of the best kickers in league history.
He retired in 2019 after nearly two decades in the NFL and setting a number of league records.
This is the story of Sebastian Janikowski.
Growing up in Poland
Sebastian Paweł Janikowski was born on March 2, 1978, in Walbrzych, Poland.
Happy birthday to #Raiders legendary PK Sebastian "Seabass" Janikowski, March 2, 1978.
The team's all-time scorer with 1799 points. pic.twitter.com/bwHtSFdSRG
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) March 2, 2023
Growing up in Poland, the name of the game was soccer.
Sebastian’s father, Henryk, was a pro soccer player and the Janikowski family moved wherever he got a contract.
In 1986, Henryk left Poland to play club soccer in the United States.
— Brendan I. Koerner (@brendankoerner) December 9, 2016
That left Sebastian and his mother, Halina, alone in a Walbrzych apartment.
Three years later, Henryk divorced Halina and married an American woman in order to stay in the States.
“I was lonely, I was in love, and it was the only way I could stay,” Henryk said.
Meanwhile, Sebastian and his mom survived by living on part-time jobs Halina could find and child support sent from Henryk.
Sebastian wanted to be like his dad and played soccer as well, advancing to the Polish under-17 team when he was 15.
Then, in 1994, Henryk contacted Halina and told her that he was able to get a visa for Sebastian to join him in the U.S.
Not hesitating for an instant, Halina put her son on a plane for America, although the departure was difficult.
“The farewell at the airport was so difficult,” said Halina. “Sebastian didn’t want to leave me. I told him to go. I told him I would join him someday.”
When Sebastian arrived in the States, he was greeted by Henryk, who he hadn’t seen in years.
“I saw him, and it was kind of weird,” said Sebastian. “We didn’t know how to act with each other, whether to hug or kiss or shake hands or high-five.”
Janikowski is Offered a Pro Soccer Contract
Henryk was living in Orlando, Florida, at the time and Sebastian was enrolled in a private school.
He found the going difficult since he didn’t speak a word of English.
“Every day I felt stupid,” he said. “Once, my English teacher called on me, and I didn’t even know what she said. It was quick motivation for me. I learned that if you’re going to live in this country, you had better learn to speak English.”
Sebastian acclimated as quickly as he could by playing soccer with a local under-19 team.
His coach, Angelo Rossi, a former pro player, saw Sebastian’s talent immediately.
“In our first practice he took a shot that hit the side of the goal and moved the goal about six inches,” said Rossi. “I fell in love with that shot.”
Rossi also happened to coach soccer at Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach.
He encouraged Henryk to allow Sebastian to play for the school in order to catch the eye of college coaches.
Henryk agreed, but he stayed in Orlando and Sebastian moved in with the Rossi family.
Before what was to be his junior year at Seabreeze, Rossi took Sebastian to Argentina for two weeks to play club soccer.
Sebastian played well enough that he was offered a hefty contract to turn pro.
He turned it down and returned with Rossi to Daytona Beach.
Learning to Play American Football
Janikowski began his junior year and played soccer for the Sandcrabs, scoring a Florida prep record 69 goals his senior year.
During his junior year, one of Janikowski’s buddies who played football asked Sebastian to try his hand at kicking the pigskin, just for the fun of it.
So, Janikowski showed up and asked Coach Kerry Kramer if he could kick.
Kramer gave his approval and was then treated to a sight and sound he had never experienced before.
“I said, ‘Sure,’ and he put a ball down,” Kramer said. “I know this is really cliché, but I’ve never — to this day — heard a ball sound the way it sounded.”
Janikowski put the ball on a tee at one goal line and booted the ball hard.
The football traveled well beyond Kramer, who was standing at midfield, and continued flying to the other end of the field.
“One of my assistants was in the other end zone, and the ball bounced past him on one hop,” said Kramer.
The sight and sound of Janikowski’s powerful kick stopped everyone in their tracks.
— Athletes Back In HS (@AthleteBackInHS) September 29, 2013
Kramer invited him to play football and Janikowski joined the Sandcrabs for his senior year, complete with a quick tutorial of the American game.
“It was basically, ‘Kick it through that big H down there,’ and he understood that,” said Kramer.
Soon enough, word spread about Janikowski the wunderkind.
Warming up before games drew crowds that normally wouldn’t have any interest in watching a kicker.
“We’d have 20 cars parked along the fence with people watching Sebastian warm up,” said Kramer, “and they’d all leave when the game started.”
An 82-Yard Field Goal?
In an effort to test himself during practice one day, Janikowski put the ball down 62 yards from the goalposts and kicked it true.
He then moved the ball back five yards every time he was successful.
Soon enough, he was 82 yards away and drew laughter and incredulous whoops when the ball went over the crossbar.
#Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski: Once kicked an 82-yard field goal in high school practice. NFL career long is 61 yards in '09.
— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) August 29, 2011
Although his 82-yarder was made in practice, Janikowski proved a natural during games as well.
Four times during his senior year Janikowski made field goals of over 50 yards.
That included a 60-yard try against a rival, good for second longest in state history.
Janikowski’s season was good enough that USA Today named him an All-American.
College recruiters showed up and promised the moon in order to get the kid from Poland.
In 2018, Kramer shared a story of a college coach who promised him that if Janikowski signed with his program, the coach would also sign Janikowski’s holder.
Florida State also looked strongly at Janikowski even though they had a solid kicker in Bill Gramatica at the time.
However, when Seminoles recruiter Bill Sexton showed a tape of Janikowski to then-coach Bobby Bowden, the revered coach nearly fell off his chair.
Recalled Bowden, “I saw him and I yelled at Billy, ‘What are you doing here? Go sign him.'”
After just one season of American football, Janikowski had a college scholarship to kick at Florida State.
Janikowski the Kicker Becomes a Legend
It didn’t take long for Janikowski to become the Seminoles kicker and he dethroned Gramtica, who transferred to the University of South Florida in 1998.
Janikowski’s 1997 season saw him make 16 of 21 field goals and all but two extra points.
During a contest against Wake Forest in mid-November, he made a 56-yard field goal that remained a program record for a decade.
After Gramatica’s departure the following year, Janikowski kept booting long kicks and astounded the FSU faithful when he sent kickoffs through the uprights in the opposite end zone.
The ‘Noles went 11-2 in 1998 and Janikowski was 27 of 32 (for a career-best 84% conversion rate) and only missed one extra point.
His 27 field goals set a Seminoles record that has been tied twice since then.
Janikowski was named a consensus All-American and received the coveted Lou Groza Award for the best college kicker in the nation.
Then, while FSU went undefeated in 1999, Janikowski put 23 of his 30 kicks through the uprights and made all 47 of his extra points.
The 1999 All-American first team special teams unit. Florida State K Sebastian Janikowski, East Carolina P Andrew Bayes, and Arizona AP Dennis Norhcutt. pic.twitter.com/80kJVvLULl
— 80s/90s College Football (@Stephen49090103) May 5, 2020
Once again, he was honored as a consensus All-American and received the Groza Award, becoming the first kicker to win the award twice.
— Lou Groza Award (@LouGrozaAward) April 27, 2023
FSU played Virginia Tech in the 2000 Sugar Bowl for the national championship and Janikowski made a 32-yard field goal and all five extra points during the contest.
His efforts helped the ‘Noles win the title decisively with a 46-29 victory.
“Seabass” the Party Animal Becomes a Problem
While he was at FSU, Janikowski was given a unique moniker by teammate Peter Warrick.
The receiver was talking to Janikowski during practice and told Sebastian his name was too long.
Warrick declared from henceforth that he was calling his friend “Seabass.”
Soon the entire team was calling Janikowski by his new nickname.
During his Seminoles career, Janikowski the kicker became one of the best specialists in college football.
However, Seabass the college student found himself in trouble on more than one occasion.
In 1998 alone, he was charged with battery and failure to leave the premises after two bar fights.
“He’s a big, tough guy, and people like to challenge him,” said his holder Marcus Outzen. “We try to make sure somebody is with him when he goes out.”
Seabass also had a hard time getting to his classes and studying.
“I had to bust my ass last spring and summer to play this year,” he said in 1999.
Coach Bowden talked to Janikowski several times to warn him about staying away from trouble and his friends and family were concerned about Seabass as well.
“He drinks too much and eats too much; I worry about him,” said Rossi.
By late 1999, Janikowski claimed all his troubles were behind him.
“I’m more grown up,” he said. “Sure, I got drunk and got into fights, but I was younger. I drink less now; I say no. My life is moving on, and I realize what I can have.”
More Off-Field Trouble and Oakland Shocks the NFL World
After his junior year, Janikowski declared for the 2000 NFL Draft, intending to leave school early (which was highly unusual for a kicker).
Leaving school with a year to play, however, was a big risk.
His promise of being on the straight and narrow was undone when Janikowski was charged in late January 2000 with trying to bribe a police officer.
Episode 217! A man who came all the way to the US to try to make a better life. And be a jerk. He fights, he drinks, he fights some more. He seems to have a hankering for GHB, DUIs, bribery, you name it! A true renaissance man, Sebastian Janikowski!!https://t.co/BIpsxQrqh1 pic.twitter.com/ApouFi5QAb
— Crime In Sports (@CrimeInSports) July 21, 2020
Allegedly, his roommate was arrested and Janikowski tried to pay an officer $300 to let him go.
Janikowski faced a hefty fine, jail time, and deportation if found guilty.
While he was waiting for his day in court, the Oakland Raiders shocked the sports world when they selected Janikowski with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2000 draft.
“I was on the fourth hole, I believe,” Janikowski recalled in 2019. “My agent called me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come in.’ I wasn’t expecting to get drafted that high; I was expecting to go to St. Louis, who had the 31st pick. I thought there was some time to play golf.”
It was the first time a kicker had been picked in the first round since the New Orleans Saints selected Russell Erxleben in 1979.
April 15, 2000
Raiders selected PK Sebastian "Seabass" Janikowski in the 1st round (17th overall) and P Shane Lechler in the 5th round (142 overall). pic.twitter.com/1V2c6nJ29t
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) April 15, 2023
Even more vexing to Raiders fans, the team then selected Texas A&M punter Shane Lechler in the fifth round.
Not long after the draft, Janikowski was acquitted of the bribery charge when he convinced the court that he believed he was only paying his roommate’s fine.
Unfortunately, Seabass then made national headlines in June of 2000 when he was arrested outside a Tallahassee bar with possession of GHB, a date rape drug.
“After the officer approached the car and identified himself, Janikowski allegedly poured the liquid onto the floor mat of the car,” said a statement released by Florida State University. “A test kit confirmed the substance was (GHB).”
Once again faced with deportation if found guilty, Janikowski was acquitted of the charge in April of 2001.
Rookie Season Blues
He was overruled by owner Al Davis who wanted an upgrade from 1999 punter Leo Araguz and kickers Micheal Husted and Joe Nedney.
As the 2000 season got underway, however, Davis had egg on his face.
Janikowski made the Raiders owner fidget in his seat when he made just six of his first 13 field goals.
He then missed two games due to a cellulitis skin infection.
Although the Raiders were in the midst of a 12-4 season, the kicking game wasn’t exactly living up to expectations.
“It was rough, the whole season,” Janikowski said in 2018. “I was nervous as hell. I didn’t know what to expect. And because I was a first-round pick, the spotlight is on you. You want to show the guys you were worth that pick, but you’ve got to be perfect. I was a young guy coming out and dealing with a lot of problems.”
Janikowski improved, slightly, to finish his rookie year with 22 of 32 field goals made and converting all his extra points.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) February 15, 2018
His overall field goal percentage was 68.8%. Husted’s percentage the previous year was 64.5%.
Without a doubt, it was not the drastic upgrade that Davis had envisioned.
Things Can Only Get Better
In 2001, Janikowski’s success rate improved greatly.
He made 23 of 28 field goals for an 82.1% success rate and made every extra point.
Meanwhile, the Raiders went 10-6 and lost in the Divisional round.
After the ‘01 season, Gruden left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was replaced by Bill Callahan.
As Oakland marched toward the playoffs in 2002 for the third year in a row, Janikowski went 26 of 33 (78.8%) in field goal tries and converted all 50 extra-point tries.
Then, in an odd twist of fate, the Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XXXVII to face Gruden and the Bucs.
During the contest, Janikowski kicked a 40-yard field goal for the first points of the game.
13 years ago today, Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII by crushing the Raiders pic.twitter.com/UzYE3aFC2S
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2016
He wouldn’t score any more points that day as the Raiders were crushed by Tampa Bay, 48-21.
Oakland attempted two-point conversions after their next three scores but came up empty each time.
Janikowski Produces while Oakland Struggles
In 2003, the Raiders suddenly found winning games a tall task.
The franchise went through a succession of coaches who stuck around for a year or two at best and the team didn’t win more than five games a season until an 8-8 record in 2010.
“After my first three years, when we went to the playoffs and the Super Bowl, in my mind, it was like, that’s how it works. Every year, playoffs,” said Janikowski in 2016.
Unfortunately for the organization, Janikowski and Lechler were the primary bright spots for the team.
In 2003 and 2004, Janikowski only missed three field goals both seasons.
🏴☠️🏈📚 #60Seasons Series
On November 2, 2003 #Raiders PK Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 55-yard field goal versus the Lions @ Ford Field.
It surpassed the previous team record of 54 yards shared by George Fleming in 1961 & Jeff Jaeger in 1992. pic.twitter.com/tvafYBa9Ke
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) November 2, 2019
However, as he was crushing it on the field, Seabass was causing mischief again off the field.
During the summer of 2002, Janikowski was back in Tallahassee when he was arrested for reckless driving.
Then in October of that year, Seabass was arrested again on a drunk driving charge.
Janikowski’s first several years with the Raiders proved he could still do his job while also partying like the Raiders of yore.
“It wasn’t like we were out raising hell every night, but we had our times,” Lechler said. “I get asked the question all the time: ‘I bet that was crazy running with Seabass,’ and I’m always like, ‘Yeah, it was crazy, maybe like three nights a month. The rest of the time he was fine, just normal stuff. But we had a good time, and Bass of all people, he can have just as good a time as anybody you can find in this world. He can be a blast.”
Despite Lechler’s claim that he and Seabass weren’t out all the time, the punter did recall moments where he worried the nightlife would catch up to them.
“…I mean, we had some moments where you’d wake up the next morning like, ‘Man, we’ve gotta quit this, you know? We’ve got to start focusing just on football.’ Thank God there wasn’t a whole lot of social media at the time and stuff like that,” Lechler said.
Janikowski Ties a Record
When he wasn’t out on the town, Janikowski’s powerful leg produced a number of unforgettable moments.
In 2008, the New York Jets came to Oakland and Janikowski booted a 57-yard field goal to win the game in overtime.
That marked the longest overtime field goal in NFL history.
Janikowski also attempted a 76-yard field goal that season but failed.
Can’t see Sebastian Janikowski without thinking of this pic.twitter.com/7h2yKgPJkl
— Lifetime Tampa Bay Vipers Fan (@KevinWFox) January 6, 2019
The following year, the Raiders traveled to Cleveland and Janikowski made an incredible 61-yard try in miserable conditions.
“The Jets kick was a big-time kick, but the 61-yarder in Cleveland in the snow, that was the best kick of his NFL career,” Lechler said. “I mean, the wind’s blowing and it’s kind of snowy mix, and it cold and miserable, just typical Cleveland in December. It’s one of the only times I ever jogged out there and thought, ‘He ain’t got a chance to make this one.’ But I put it down and he split the uprights, and I’m like, ‘Holy s—.’ ”
In 2010, Janikowski made a career-best 33 field goals and received a four-year deal worth $16 million including $9 million guaranteed.
His contract made Janikowski the highest-paid kicker in league history.
Janikowski then went to his one and only Pro Bowl in 2011 after making 88% of his field goal attempts.
“There was a stretch of four or five years there where there was nobody in the game better, and we knew it,” said Lechler.
Janikowski broke a single-game team record in 2011 with six field goals in a contest against Chicago.
He also made a 63-yard attempt against Denver.
September 12, 2011 🏴☠️
PK Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 63 yd FG in a MNF game at Denver. #Raiders won 23-20.
* At the time it tied the NFL record for the longest field goal at 63 yards, sharing the record with Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam.
Seabass holds the franchise record. pic.twitter.com/yQRwYkFn7h
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) September 12, 2021
That tied the NFL record set by the Saints’ Tom Dempsey in 1970 and equaled by the Broncos’ Jason Elam in 1998.
It also marked the longest field goal in Monday Night Football history.
Although, according to Janikowski, his record tyer wasn’t special.
“I didn’t even really hit it hard, because in Denver with the elevation, you don’t have to,” he said.
Late in the season, Janikowski tried to break the record again with a 65-yarder against Detroit but the attempt was blocked.
As the Raiders consistently underperformed, Janikowski started turning his life around, especially after marrying and having two children.
By 2016, Janikowski was still a character, but one that veteran Raiders teammates noted had changed for the better.
“I’m shocked that he’s made it this far, because I thought there was no way he was going to make it this long in the league,” said former Raiders receiver Tim Brown. “It’s always amazing when I see Seabass now and see how much of a gentleman he is and how he talks about his wife and kids. My first reaction was, ‘Oh, my God, his poor wife.’ But I realize he’s a different man, he’s a changed man.”
Janikowski’s early Raiders years were shaky, but he eventually outlasted everyone in the organization and drew the respect of his then-current teammates.
“He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had, he really is,” Raiders third-year quarterback Derek Carr said. “He’s got such a good heart.”
After a long dry spell, Oakland finally returned to the postseason in 2016 with a 12-4 record while Janikowski connected on nearly 83% of his field goals.
.@RAIDERS Sebastian Janikowski –
After a 14-year hiatus, the only man from the 2002 roster is set to make his return to postseason action. pic.twitter.com/TqvL4o8GTR
— Evert Geerlings (@E_Geerlings) December 19, 2016
The Raiders lost in the Wild Card round to the Houston Texans and Lechler, who had left Oakland in 2013.
Janikowski Leaves the Raiders
In 2017, Janikowski missed the entire year with a back injury.
When the season concluded, the Raiders decided not to re-sign their long-time kicker.
The news reverberated throughout the league and even brought a comment from Gruden, who did not want Janikowski in 2000.
“Thank God for Raiders fans they listened to Al Davis and not me,” Gruden laughed. “I’ll say he was right.”
Instead of hanging up his cleats, Janikowski signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks in 2018.
That year he made 22 of his 27 field goal attempts and missed only three extra points.
— Seahawks PR (@seahawksPR) December 31, 2018
Janikowski’s final NFL game was a Wild Card battle against Dallas after the ‘18 season when he made two field goals in a 24-22 loss.
A few months later, Janikowski officially retired from the NFL after an 18-year playing career over 19 seasons.
“My body just can’t take it anymore,” Janikowski said. “I have some back issues that make it a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. I knew it was time to step away.”
During his career, Janikowski made 436 of 542 field goals (80.4%) and 605 of 614 extra-point attempts (98.5%).
Sebastian Janikowski is reportedly retiring after 19 seasons in the NFL
436/542 Field Goals Made
Career Long: 63-Yarder
1x Pro Bowler pic.twitter.com/aBPs4hFwWq
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) April 28, 2019
For good measure, he also had over 84,000 kickoff yards.
Janikowski played in a Super Bowl and went to the Pro Bowl once and was a second-team All-Pro once.
He ended his Raiders career as the team’s all-time leading scorer with 1,799 points and still has several NFL records including longest field goal attempt (76 yards), most field goals of 50+ yards in a career (58), and longest field goal in overtime (57 yards).
Life After Football
Since retiring, Janikowski has stayed relatively quiet.
In 2019, he was inducted into the Seabreeze High School Hall of Fame.
Things you don’t see every Friday night: Sebastian Janikowski taking a selfie with the Seabreeze student section during halftime. Janikowski and Eric Weems were inducted into the Seabreeze Hall of Fame tonight @Seabreeze_FB @FlaHSFootball pic.twitter.com/4DsAUnf8YJ
— Zach Dean (@TeamZachDean) October 26, 2019
As of 2020, Janikowski and his wife, Lori, were living with their three girls in Florida and enjoying life.
“There could be different opportunities with football, with soccer maybe. I don’t know,” Janikowski said. “I just want to spend time with my family for now, and see what comes around.”