In 1999, missed field goals were key in seven of the Oakland Raiders eight losses. What was Al Davis’ response?
He selected Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick in the 2000 draft.
Janikowski’s powerful leg had gained notoriety while at Florida State. The Polish place kicker amazed scouts at the combine, and at that point, then Raiders coach Jon Gruden was sold.
“Everyone was just amazed at his leg,” said Ted Sundquist, Denver’s director of college scouting in 2000. “There’s this one drill where they have to try to clear the crossbar from five yards back, and I’ve never seen a guy get the ball up and over as easily as he did.”
As soon as he donned the Silver & Black, there was no denying Oakland was the perfect match for Janikowski.
During practices early in his career, Gruden tested Janikowski’s prowess. “I know he played in national championship games in college and had a lot of big kicks, but I guarantee that’s as much pressure as he’s ever faced,” Gruden said. “He had guys like [offensive tackle] Lincoln Kennedy and [defensive tackles] Grady Jackson and Darrell Russell threatening to kill him, and I took a timeout to ice him and called him a lot of foul words for good measure.”
Janikowski quickly gained the confidence of teammates by splitting the uprights from impressive distances to end practice sessions. But he wasn’t the only potent kicker added to the roster that season.
Oakland also drafted Shane Lechler, who set the NCAA record for career punting average as a collegiate (44.7 yards), while at Texas A&M, with a fifth round pick.
Upon arriving in Oakland, Lechler was contacted by Ray Guy and told, “Don’t make people forget about me,” said the player widely regarded as the greatest punter of all-time.
All of the sudden, special teams were an area of strength for the Raiders.
“Last year there was a feeling of learned helplessness and hopelessness, and that messes with your mind,” fullback Jon Ritchie stated prior to the 2000 season. “Kickers have a stigma of being head cases, but ‘Seabass’ and Shane were incredibly successful in college. They’re big guys who have that little tinge of aggression in them, and there are times they seem to be taking it out on the ball.”
Since, the Raiders paid both heavily, making Janikowski and Lechler the highest paid players at their respective positions.
Lechler has been a perennial All-Pro and Janikowski has set all-time Raider marks in kicking and scoring.
“Special teams can set the tempo for an entire team,” Lechler commented before his rookie campaign. “I think that Sebastian and I can make a big difference.”
Janikowski emphasized, “I know we can.”
It’s hard to deny that they haven’t left an indelible mark in Silver & Black history.