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JJ Jansen, John Kasay linked by time and perspective
As the Panthers long snapper ties the franchise's all-time record for games played, he thinks back often to the lessons he learned from the kicker who taught him how to be a pro.
By Darin Gantt Nov 25, 2022

CHARLOTTE — More than a decade later, JJ Jansen remembers the feeling.

The fear, the anxiety, the disappointment in himself, the not knowing what to say.

Not just because of his key mistake in a game the team lost, but because of his reaction to it. His mistakes are rare enough that you can remember them in detail years later, but it was what happened after that game in 2010 in New York against the Giants that seems seared into his memory now, a lesson learned that day, among a lot of lessons he learned his first two years with the Panthers. That day, he remembers not knowing what to say to reporters about his mistake, so he didn't want to say anything at all.

But now, with the benefit of perspective, Jansen remembers seeing a specific teammate stand up and talk forever after a loss about his own mistakes while being the first one out of the locker room — before the first reporter ever arrived — after he won a game for the Panthers.

So it's not surprising that this year, when Eddy Piñeiro missed a couple of kicks in a close loss at Atlanta, Jansen was standing by Piñeiro's locker, offering tacit support in a quiet room. It's the same reason that when Piñeiro redeemed himself two weeks later, Jansen was there to offer congratulations but also to make sure that everyone knew that his kicker's single missed extra point on a night of nearly impossible conditions was his fault because of a bad snap.

JJ Jansen knew when to stand up and raise his hand. Because he saw John Kasay do it for so long and offer so many lessons to a young player who didn't even know what questions to ask, that now, 14 years later, they're just ingrained. He does what he does every day, well and exactly the same way, because that's the way John Kasay showed him how to do it.

So Sunday, it seems somewhat appropriate that when JJ Jansen ties the Panthers franchise record for service time when he appears in his 221st career game, he'll do it with the blessing and support of his former teammate and current friend John Kasay, the guy who taught him how to do all of this football stuff, and so much more.

"There's no way I would have done any of this without his mentorship," Jansen said simply, because now, after the two years of daily instructions and the decade to reflect on them, he's quick to admit that the only reason he's still here is because of the things he learned when he first arrived, and who taught him those things.

It's kind of amazing to think about, that here in the Panthers' 28th season, for all the hundreds of players to pass through these doors, that the franchise has never gone into a season without either Kasay or Jansen on the roster at the beginning of the year.

So come Sunday, whenever Jansen takes the field and does what he's done so many times, he and Kasay will be tied at 221 games apiece. The two of them left Steve Smith (182), Thomas Davis (176), and Jordan Gross (167) in the dust years ago.

Kasay missed some games along the way because of injuries, but he was a fixture here for the first 16 seasons the Panthers existed.

There were exactly five long snappers in franchise history before Jansen arrived. Kasay's first one, Mark Rodenhauser, begat the ill-fated Jerry Jensen/Danny Villa year in 1998, but they begat Brian Kinchen (1999-2000), who begat Jason Kyle (2001-2008).

And for all anyone knew at the time, Kyle might have kept going. Long snappers often sign a series of one-year contracts, and Kyle was a free agent. But in one of those movements of history you only recognize with time and perspective, the Panthers were beginning to strip the roster of more expensive veterans in the 2009 offseason (a process that accelerated leading into the 2010 season and eventual lockout of 2011), so they traded a conditional 2011 seventh-round draft pick — "slightly more than a bag of balls," Jansen laughed — to the Packers for a spare long snapper they weren't using.

There's a lot of laughter when people consider that transaction, and the fact it turned out to be so meaningful.

"Are you s---ing me, JJ Jansen's passing John Kasay? That makes me feel really old," then-Panthers coach John Fox, now 67 and working as a senior defensive assistant for the Colts, said recently. "I can't believe that."

It's true. And though we're talking about a seemingly inconsequential trade, it turned out to be a bigger deal than anyone might have imagined. But first, they had to get him here, so he could start learning those lessons.

J.J. Jansen

Jansen was very good at his craft, standing out at Notre Dame and at specialist camps, because he had the unique ability to stand on his head and fling a ball between his legs at a high rate of speed with a tight spiral to a specific spot. It's not the kind of thing you learn in trade school or anything.

Eventually, he learned how to snap, and how to lead.

The Packers brought him in as an undrafted rookie in 2008 to pair him with a kid kicker named Mason Crosby, and a young punter named Jon Ryan. Crosby's still kicking for the Packers, and Ryan eventually retired after 12 years in the NFL with the Packers and Seahawks. At the time, they were sort of all independent contractors, young players trying to create careers for themselves.

"The blind leading the blind," Jansen said of that training camp. "I didn't know what I didn't know, and those guys were worried about themselves."

J.J. Jansen

But in the preseason finale for the Packers in 2008, Jansen blew out his left knee, on a play that with the gift of time and perspective, taught a couple of John Kasay lessons to JJ Jansen.

Jansen's snap to Packers punter Jon Ryan was high, which triggered a strange avalanche of events which led him to this place.

"I saw his eyes flash up, a guy got beat off the edge, so Jon grabbed the ball and took off running," Jansen recalled. "I don't know what's happening, so go to throw a block, Jon cuts back, I put my foot in the ground to throw a block, tear my LCL in my left knee."

Jansen had many thoughts at that moment, but they began with a bigger question for a kid who had plenty. His girlfriend at the time, whom he strongly suspected he had a future with, was in the stands. So were his parents, and on the fringes of his NFL rookie season, the football part was gone.

"Why did that happen?" Jansen said. "In that moment, Laura had just moved up to Green Bay. I knew I wanted to marry her. She had just moved up there, my parents in the stands, like, why is this happening?

"Now I have a philosophy. I know the Lord is moving in a way that's always good for me. I might not know why this bad thing happening is a good thing. Now I call it my five-year rule. In five years I'll know.

"That was in 2008. By 2013 we had a long-term contract, a home, and a kid here in Charlotte. It's like, 'Ahhh, that's why that happened in August of 2008. The Lord wanted me here, I don't know why. But the mentorship of John when I got here was the most important in my career, but also in my life."

But before Jansen could look back and realize the great blessings that were in store for him here, there were a lot of lessons, and some of them go back to that night in 2008 before he ever met John Kasay.

Jansen was sort of out there freelancing on the play after he screwed up the snap a little. Fast forward to the 2009 preseason, Jansen and Kasay and the Panthers were playing the Giants (of course it was the Giants, this story is all about paths crossing in ways you only realize down the line). (These stories also contain a lot of specific time-and-place memories, because if you're going to kick or snap in the NFL for 221 games, you have to be detailed.)

"I snap the ball, it was a good snap, and I get downfield and set a good pick, but get juked in the open field, and I go flying by," Jansen recalled. "I remember John standing right on the white line on the sideline. His toes were never on the field. With one finger, he starts bringing me in."

"Your job is to make a good snap, protect the punter, and don't get hurt," Kasay said flatly and a bit sternly.

"Yes sir," Jansen replied.

"Did you notice anything about making a tackle in that list of demands?" Kasay asked.

"No sir," Jansen replied.

"Your job is not to make tackles. Do you remember last preseason?" Kasay reminded the youngster.

"He was the first one to tell me; your job is super-important, don't do anything stupid. You don't have a replacement," Jansen said. "We had a long talk about being comfortable being uncomfortable. Literally, that practice, I banged knees with somebody. Like the next three weeks couldn't move the way I wanted to. He said, 'you're the snapper; no matter how you feel, what your emotional state is, that's your job.'

"He was able to turn me into a pro much quicker. The lessons he learned in years 19 and 20 as a kicker, I was getting in year 2."

It's worth pointing out Jansen has learned those lessons, and continued to add. He's getting better at his job. Special teams coach Chris Tabor marvels at Jansen's physical condition for a 36-year-old. (Not for nothing, but Jansen started working out with a new intensity when the Panthers drafted another long snapper two years ago. It has paid off. He's faster now, and sprints in practice so the GPS trackers can confirm and record that suspicion.)

And Tabor can go on and on about Jansen's continued physical capacity to play a young man's game.

Tabor joked that, "you have to be careful when he comes for a visit," because Jansen's stories can get long (like this one has already).

But he can also talk for a long time about how good Jansen is at what he does, to specifics as granular as the way Jansen got downfield to cover a punt recently, and didn't make the tackle, but led safety Sam Franklin into it so someone else could make the play.

It's the kind of play you don't make without knowing exactly what you're doing.

It's the kind of play that comes with time and perspective, and being well-taught.

When thinking about that early education, Jansen remembers Kasay telling him how to lift weights, how to plan his day, and so many things. But the bond between them ran well past the oddball days of a specialist, which are often filled with long stretches of time between feedings, side bets on ball tricks on the practice field, but also with life lessons.

When you get these two talking about each other, you realize how similar they are.

Kasay and his wife Laura came to Charlotte in 1995 after an up-and-down stint in Seattle, knowing no one, and became institutions. They were part of the Panthers family but also a city, raising a family of four kids (a boy, two girls, and then another boy).

Jansen and his wife Laura came to Charlotte in 2009 after an up-and-down stint in Green Bay, knowing no one, and became institutions. They were part of the Panthers family but also a city, raising a family of four kids (a boy, two girls, and then another boy).

Jansen is closer in age to Kasay's oldest son Steven than he is to Kasay himself, which is part of the reason he refers to Kasay as "another father."

J.J. Jansen, John Kasay, Jason Baker

"The fact he was willing to mentor me as a young player. The lessons I learned as a football player the first two years, are the same things I still think about in year 15," Jansen said. "The tools, the tricks, I use them all. More importantly, most importantly, he mentored me in being a great husband, a great father. He has been a spiritual mentor, guided me through emotional stuff, spiritual issues. He has never once needed or wanted anything from me. It's been all mentorship; never been an ask. It's been an incredibly special relationship.

"If it hadn't been him, I'd have probably been perfectly happy passing this record and going and not having anyone know. But I think it's a cool and special thing that the guy I'm passing is the reason I'm passing it. It's a special thing for me."

As he thinks about all their connections, he comes back to another one of those highly specific sense memories. He was helping coach a 9-year-old baseball team which featured Kasay's son, and they were out after practice eating at a Subway. Kasay's time here was coming to a close, but so was a national housing crisis. Specialists are often fungible, but at this particular moment, houses were relatively inexpensive, especially if you had any degree of financial security.

"We're sitting there eating sandwiches, and John said to me, 'If you love Charlotte, this is the time to lean into Charlotte,'" Jansen recalled. "In a matter of months, I signed a four-year contract, we bought a house, and got pregnant with our oldest. It feels like there were a lot of those moments where he had a great vision for me and a great vision for our family, because there were so many similarities."

He remembers the look in Kasay's eye when he delivered that line.

"Talk it over with your Laura," Kasay said to him. "I know what my Laura would say."

221122 TSE tree lighting 166

There are those little sayings of Kasay's that Jansen can recite to this day, with the same tone, the same pacing. Spend as much time around any person as they did for a few years at work and many beyond, and it's natural.

So Jansen laughs and acknowledges that among all those little lessons he learned from Kasay, one of the most important is — and he says it in John's voice — "this is not about me."

Kasay has always kept a low profile since leaving football because it was always only part of his life.

But he doesn't mind talking about Jansen, because they've become important parts of each other's lives.

Jansen attends the church where Kasay serves as a pastor. They still see each other, and they talk often. Occasionally it's about football, but now it's about life with their wives in a place they now know as home.

"We have a lot of commonalities," Kasay said of his friend. "The four of us, we enjoy each other's company, living life in this place, and doing it in community."

Kasay recognized that at some point, someone was going to break his record. He's glad it's Jansen. But he also hopes that someday it's someone else.

"I hope 100 more guys break JJ's record someday," Kasay said. "Because that will mean a lot of good things happened for a lot of people."

So all these years later, as Jansen sits outside the team cafeteria, pointing to specific spots in his office where Kasay taught him a specific lesson, or where he was sitting when a funny thing was said, or where they were standing in a place that's since been renovated, Jansen keeps coming back to those post-game locker rooms they shared during two otherwise nondescript seasons.

Even after talking for 45 minutes about his career, his path, his highs, his lows, there's more that Jansen wants to say. So turn that tape recorder back on; this needs to be a part of the record.

J.J. Jansen

For all the snaps he's made, for all the kicks Kasay made, it's those moments of accountability that stand out to Jansen.

In 2010, their final year together, the highlights were rare. The Panthers went 2-14 that season, and the only (eventual) consolation was that it led to Cam Newton's arrival and so much (eventual) success.

But there was that one day, Nov. 28, when Jimmy Clausen led a furious drive (believe it or not) against Jake Delhomme's Browns (believe it or not) to give Kasay a shot at an easy 42-yard field goal to win their second game of the year.

Kasay missed. So he stood there and talked about it.

"So much in the locker room is caught instead of taught," Kasay said. "It's not that I told him any particular thing, but you pick up more things by watching. And being a stand-up guy is critical. When players and coaches are getting cut and fired because of your mistakes, that heightens that sense of awareness.

"Guys in that locker room know, so it's not hard to be a stand-up guy, they know how it went, so there's no reason to insult anyone's intelligence. Let's just all agree that Johnny screwed that one up."

It sounds so simple when Kasay says it, but that's a lesson that not just everyone knows. It's the kind of wisdom that only comes with time and perspective.

John Kasay

So three weeks later against the Cardinals, Kasay was a perfect 4-of-4 on field goals in a 19-12 win over Arizona, the second and final win of that season, and he became a ghost.

"I remember Cleveland, I was two lockers down, and he sat with reporters for 30 minutes and answered every single question. Every question," Jansen said this week. "About two or three weeks later, the second win (against the Cardinals), we were all pretty fired up. He was the first guy out of the locker room. I remember asking him a week later, 'You just hit a game-winner, why?' John looked at me and said: 'I never want to answer questions when I make a kick, but it's my responsibility to answer every question when I miss.'"

That made Jansen flashback to that opener against the Giants that year, when his bad snap led to the first loss of a long year. Was it all his fault? No, it most certainly was not. But it felt that way for him. So Jansen ducked quietly away that day, not knowing at the time what to do.

"I was terrified," Jansen said, remembering then that he was a young player, with nothing resembling job security or the kind of wisdom with which to acquire it. "I was so sad, so upset; I was terrified. I didn't answer any questions. But John never said a word to me about it."

It's easy to wonder all these years later what sticks with him more, the mistake, or letting down his mentor by not acknowledging it.

So more than a decade later, instead of ducking, Jansen makes sure to find someone from the PR department, to make sure reporters find him if anything goes wrong in his department.

"I remember John," Jansen said. "It's a reminder, to this day, if anything goes wrong in my area, I ask Ryan Anderson, do you need me? Deep down, you don't want to do it. You're angry, you're frustrated, you're scared. I felt those emotions that day in New York.

"But I learned so much about accountability for your mistakes and taking responsibility when you miss. You hit a game-winning kick? It's the other 22 guys who won; we just had to finish it at the end. It's never about us."

J.J. Jansen, Johnny Hekker, Eddy Pineiro

That's why when Piñeiro missed this year, Jansen was nearly the first person anyone saw in the aftermath. Eddy just got here this year, he's new, and he's probably temporary. But Jansen kind of owes it to him, so he doesn't mind standing up and raising his hand to volunteer to say the hard words.

It's a natural reaction now.

But reactions only become natural when they're repeated over time, with perspective.

That's what John Kasay taught JJ Jansen, so that's what Jansen's doing for a new guy who came to a new place with no connections.

"I'm just passing along the knowledge I got," Jansen said.

View photos of long snapper J.J. Jansen throughout his career in Carolina. Jansen came to Carolina in 2009 and is set to go down as the longest-tenured Panther in history.

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