For Janikowski, change is good
Since he quit drinking, the Raiders kicker has matured in his approach to football and life.
By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- If he really wanted to find the hot Super Bowl party, where the booze flows well past midnight and temptation struts about in high heels, Sebastian Janikowski needed only to hail a cab.
And get back to the team hotel before 2 a.m. curfew.
"I was in bed at 10:30 p.m., watching TV," the Raiders placekicker said Tuesday during Super Bowl XXXVII media day. "We've also got video games in our rooms.
"There are lots of people that ask me to go out and party. They ask me a lot of times and I'll say no. I don't want to hang out with them."
Whether by choice or force -- the NFL keeps confidential the names of players receiving treatment in its substance abuse program -- Janikowski says he no longer engages in the lifestyle that shoved him closer to self-destruction than stardom.
It's been a change for his betterment.
"I did have a good time, but not anymore," Janikowski said.
"I don't go out anymore. I don't drink anymore. It's time to grow up. You can't just be a kid in this league forever. I really don't miss the partying that much anymore. I did my share, trust me."
One must trust that Janikowski, a Polish immigrant who has walked a tight rope of fame and near deportation since his days at Seabreeze High in Daytona Beach and Florida State, is telling the truth when speaking of this dramatically settled life.
Sure he still ventures out with friends from time to time, but it's not like before when imbibing at some bar meant spending the next morning nursing a hangover.
"I've enjoyed my life," Janikowski said. "I don't want to be 50 years old and look at my past and be like, 'Oh my god. I didn't do this. I didn't do that."'
What takes 50 years for some took all of 24 for Janikowski.
It was early October 2002 when this gifted kicker, chosen by the Raiders in the first round of the 2000 draft, was arrested in Oakland, Calif., on charges of driving his red Mercedes while under the influence.
His blood-alcohol level registered a dizzying 0.20, more than twice the threshold at which California law assumes that someone is unable to safely drive a motor vehicle, and he later pleaded no contest and received three years probation and community service.
Less than a year before, Janikowski took five stitches in his head when he fell on a dance floor at a club in San Francisco. A few months before that? Janikowski was acquitted on charges of possessing the so-called "date rape" drug GHB in April 2001. And before that? He was acquitted on charges he tried to bribe a Tallahassee police officer following an argument with a bouncer at a nightclub.
"Everybody makes their own choices in their mind," Janikowski said. "If you want to say I'm a bad guy, okay. It's not people who know me or live with me for a year or two. They're going to see what's inside and not outside."
Though never suspended by the league, a clause in Janikowski's contract requires he pay up to $25,000 for each game missed because of suspension. Maybe that is why the DUI scared him more than the other missteps.
Maybe it's more.
"When you sit in the house and see the news, the people talking bad about you," Janikowski said, "you think about how it was wrong."
He's discovered people remember the negative a lot easier than the positive, but he chooses to focus only on the latter. The ability to push aside public perception and proceed with life makes him similar to the owner of the team for which he plays.
"He's a good guy," Janikowski said of Al Davis. "He doesn't care what people think. ... I love him."
The feelings are mutual.
Janikowski has become one of the most reliable kickers, and easily one of the biggest at 6-foot-2, 254 pounds, in the NFL.
"His maturity level this year has really taken another step," coach Bill Callahan said. "I think he finally understands what preparation means. He understands what performance means, not only on the field but off the field as well.
"I sense some real major strides in his disposition and demeanor and the nuances in what he does to prepare himself. I'm glad about the growth he has shown."
Janikowski's consistency has been helped by an increased workout regimen and a minor adjustment in his approach to the ball. Until this season he took two steps before kicking but now is using one to prevent him from rushing kicks.
The former Polish national team soccer player converted all 58 point-after attempts, hit 31 of 39 field-goal attempts this season and led the NFL with 22 touchbacks.
"He's a powerful kid," special teams coach Bob Casullo said. "The ball explodes off his foot. They say if you want to tell if a kick is good or not just close your eyes and listen.
"You can hear the foot hit the ball. It booms off his foot."
Unsure whether a kicker can be embraced completely by all, Janikowski counts each teammate as a friend.
"We know what he's like," punter Shane Lechler said. "The stuff you read about him is ridiculous. He's a great person. He works hard. He really cares about the game. He's matured every year, tremendously. I just think he has a bad rap."
He never missed a function or practice because of his prior habits, but Janikowski admits to feeling better these days.
"I feel fresh, awake and can go to practice," he said. "I think I can practice better and focus more."
Now he is focused on possibly playing a key role in Sunday's game against the Bucs, a game in which the kicker has traditionally played an important role.
"I've been thinking about that a little bit," Janikowski said. "With our defense and their offense it's probably going to be a close game. If it's going to come down to a kick, I hope I'm going to be ready."
One thing is for sure, however. He'll be rested.
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