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There's a Special Kind of Stress

October 05, 2002|Sam Farmer

Raider kicker Sebastian Janikowski was arrested this week for suspicion of drunk driving. On the NFL shock meter, that falls somewhere between Daniel Snyder is pompous and the Bengals are 0-4.

Anyone with a vague recollection of Janikowski's background could see this coming. From his wild college days at Florida State--where he had at least six brushes with the law involving drugs or alcohol--to his face plant last year on the dance floor of a San Francisco nightclub, he is trouble.

Don't feel too sorry for the Raiders, who wasted a first-round pick on him; they knew what they were getting. The guy to sympathize with is special-teams coach Bob Casullo, who came into the league with Janikowski in 2000 and whose fortunes are tied to the 24-year-old knucklehead.

Of all the coaching jobs in the NFL, being in charge of special teams must be the most stressful. Your fate rests in the hands--and on the feet--of the team's youngest and often least experienced players. Your practice time is very limited; it's almost an afterthought with many teams. And the stakes are extremely high.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 101 words Type of Material: Correction
Pro football--The Raiders' Philip Buchanon scored on one punt return last Sunday, not two, as incorrectly reported in a Sports story Saturday.

Half of the league's 32 teams have changed special-teams coaches in the last two seasons.

It's the only job in football in which you can go from a great coach to a buffoon in the amount of time it takes a kick returner to run from one end zone to the other.

"I've never had an urge to stick my foot out and trip a guy when he ran past me," said Joe Avezzano, who has been with the Dallas Cowboys since 1990, making him the dean of special-teams coaches. "But you do want to crawl in a hole when something bad happens. Because there's no one else that will take the hit on that. On offense, you've got four or five coaches to share the blame. If there's a mistake in the kicking game, it's on you."

Just think how Denver's Frank Bush felt Monday night, when his field-goal unit found its way into the NFL record books in a most discouraging way. Bronco kicker Jason Elam, one of the game's most reliable players, ended the first half by coming up short on a long field-goal try. Baltimore's Chris McAlister caught the ball in the end zone, then bolted past a slew of lumbering linemen for a 107-yard touchdown, the longest play in league history.

Then, there's Casullo, who was floating on a cloud all week after Raider rookie Phillip Buchanon returned two punts for touchdowns, sparking Oakland's first victory over Tennessee.

Then, along comes Janikowski, who was arrested by the California Highway Patrol late Wednesday for speeding in his red 2001 Mercedes-Benz. Police told the Associated Press that his blood-alcohol level registered 0.20, more than twice the legal limit.

Earlier that day, I spoke with Casullo about the unpredictability of coaching special teams.

"Each game is its own entity," he said. "One week, your guys can be really outstanding. The next week, it's like you've never met with your guys."

The Raiders have met with Janikowski before, and they'll meet with him again.

Somehow, that doesn't seem to make a difference.

At This Stage of the Game

"Runt of the Litter," a critically acclaimed play written and performed by former NFL player Bo Eason, is heading into its second and final week in Los Angeles.

The one-man show takes place in a football locker room, where the protagonist is preparing to play against his older brother in the Super Bowl. Eason is the helmeted Hamlet, struggling with the notion of trying to defeat the person he respects and loves most.

"It's kind of a Cain and Abel premise; do you choose brotherhood, or do you want to win?" explained Eason, 41, a Houston Oiler safety from 1984 through '88 who has had supporting roles in movies such as "Miami Rhapsody" and "A Bright Shining Lie."

"Runt" is autobiographical to a large degree. Eason's older brother, Tony, 42, played quarterback for New England in the 1980s and helped lead the Patriots to Super Bowl XX, which they lost to the Bears.

Bo and Tony were best friends growing up in Walnut Grove, Calif.--Bo considered himself the runt, hence the name of the play--and never lost a game while playing on the same teams from Pop Warner through high school. They never played against each other in the pros; they were scheduled to in 1987, but the player strike wiped out that reunion.

Castle Rock has optioned the screen rights to Eason's play, which had a successful off-Broadway run in New York, and several Hollywood types have been--or are scheduled to be--in the audience, among them Toby McGuire, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Klein and Rosie O'Donnell. The production runs Tuesday through Friday at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood.

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