Janikowski is a kick to watch

On, off field, junior plays with passion

January 05, 2000|By KANSAS CITY STAR

NEW ORLEANS -- In olden days, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, like any self-respecting Southern football coach, didn't give a dadgum about kickers. Didn't even want to waste a scholarship on those footsie boys. Bowden loved real football. He loved World War II generals. He had no place in his heart for skinny little guys who wore kicking shoes and did not hit anybody.

Then, Bobby Bowden watched a few field goals go wide right.

"I'm no genius," he said. "But you hit me in the head enough times, and maybe I'll figure things out."

So Bowden went out and got himself the biggest, baddest, boldest, baldest field-goal kicker this world has ever seen, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound party dude from Poland named Sebastian Janikowski. And last night, when Virginia Tech and Florida State played for college football's national championship in the Sugar Bowl, all eyes were following Sebastian Janikowski.

Well, certainly, all eyes in Kansas City will follow.

"He's from another planet," Florida State long snapper Clay Ingram said. Certainly, there has never been a kicker quite like him. First, he absolutely mashes the ball. Fifty-seven of his kickoffs this season were not returned. In high school, he nearly made a 71-yard field goal. This year, against Florida, he made a 49-yarder that tied the score, but there was a penalty against the Seminoles. He simply stepped back up and nailed a 54-yard field goal.

He then taunted Florida coach Steve Spurrier.

"He's what you might call, a little off-center," Bowden says. And that's the second part of the Janikowski picture. The guy's kind of nutso. He's not like any other kicker out there. He's huge. He's bald. He's cocky. He's turning pro after his junior year. He's breaking team rules. On New Year's Eve, he stayed out past curfew. He's like the kicker's Joe Namath, for crying out loud.

Bowden made him run the steps for missing curfew.

Bowden will not keep him out of the game, though. No way.

"I don't have a Warsaw Rule," he said. "If he's breathing and alive, he will kick the ball off."

See, Janikowski is one of the most dominating players in college football. He's such a weapon because he can make field goals from almost anywhere. And, more than that, he simply controls games with his long kickoffs. Once, long ago, there were lots and lots of kickers who could kick the ball deep into the end zone. But, like great songwriters and all-night diners, they have sort of disappeared.

Now, in the NFL, kickers dribble the ball to the 17, and so -- even though it's very different kicking the college football and the NFL football -- there are NFL scouts absolutely swooning over Janikowski. He could get picked in the first round of the draft.

Janikowski loves it. He has always felt that he would be famous in America. He passed up some big-money offers to play soccer in South America because he wanted to hit it big in America.

And he hit the timing perfectly. There has never been a better time to be a nervy, wild, powerful kicker. All of Kansas City watched Sunday as a kickoff specialist almost single-handedly lost the biggest game of the season by poking three balls out of bounds. All of Kansas City watched Pete Stoyanovich miss the game-winning field goal Sunday, just as they watched Lin Elliott miss three in that horrorfest of a game against Indianapolis. Yep, Kansas City folks have been hit in the head plenty, too. There are many people in town who would vote for a tax hike if it meant getting a big-time kicker.

But then, it's like that just about everywhere. New England would be in the playoffs if it had a brash kicker who could make game-winning field goals. Same with Oakland. Miami is in the playoffs only because twice teams missed big field goals against it. It's insanity out there now. Dallas is using kicker Eddie Murray, who is 287 years old, and Minnesota is using Gary Anderson, who was Eddie Murray's hero when he was growing up. Drive into town, and you can see Jan Stenerud practicing in his back yard.

So, this is a wonderful time to be the biggest, baddest, boldest, baldest kicker in the entire world. And last night, Sebastian Janikowski had his stage. There were other story lines to the game, of course.

Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore may be the best player nobody knows. Florida State's Peter Warrick wanted to show America that, discounted clothes aside, he's the best player in America, period. Bowden tried to win his second national championship. Frank Beamer tried to complete an amazing college football turnaround.

But, let's face it: Come game time, you were watching Sebastian Janikowski boom his kickoffs. And you were be wondering just how good he would look in a Chiefs uniform. Football fans across America were wondering how good he would look in their team's uniform.

Yep, Janikowski does love it. These days, it's good to be the kicker.

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