CHARLOTTE, N.C. – JJ Jansen was ready to quit.
It was 2009, less than a month into his first training camp with the Carolina Panthers, and everything “felt really heavy’’ for the second-year long-snapper out of Notre Dame.
So Jansen called his wife, Laura, who hadn’t moved to the Charlotte area yet. He shared his fear of being cut and suggested the job he’d been doing since his sophomore year in high school so he could play football with his “baseball buddies’’ wasn’t something he could do anymore.
“I don’t remember her exact words, but it was basically like, ‘You don’t quit. Just keep powering through. You’re going to do it,’ ’’ Jansen recalled as he looked at the Charlotte skyline over the stands at Bank of America Stadium.
Two hundred twenty-one games later, Jansen is set to break the franchise record for games played at 222 when the Panthers (4-8) return from a bye to face the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox). It’s a record he never imagined, particularly since it belonged to the player who taught him the most about powering through.
That would be kicker John Kasay, a local landmark the first 16 seasons (1995-2010) of the Panthers' existence.
To put the streak in perspective, there are only three active players with more than 200 games played with the same team, and Jansen’s 221 ranks second to Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (253). The longest streak in NFL history, according to Elias, is 270 games by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall (1961-79).
Jansen, 36, is so old on a Carolina roster that ranks among the youngest in the NFL -- average age is 24.7 -- that linebacker Shaq Thompson calls him “grandpa.’’
Kasay, who was 39 when Jansen arrived at Carolina, is now 53.
“If not for John Kasay, I don’t break John Kasay’s record,’’ Jansen said of his mentor he tries to emulate in every way (he even has four children just like Kasay). “He taught me so much about how to be a professional, how as a long-snapper, how to make the world as easy on the kicker and punter as humanly possible, which is all pro long-snapping is.
“He taught me so much about being a man, being a husband, being a father, and all this stuff away from the field.’’
JANSEN STARTED TO get philosophical, which may be what he does best. He’s gone from a fragile 23-year-old trying to make a living snapping balls between his legs into a wise veteran who through time and experience always seems to have the right perspective on football and life.
Seldom does a day go by that teammates don’t stop at his locker for advice or reporters for a history lesson on a franchise that in 2010 had an NFL-worst record and in 2015 reached the Super Bowl after going a league-best 15-1 during the regular season.
Jansen’s perspective has been especially valuable to young players this season with the Panthers, who fired head coach Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start, only a game-and-a-half out of first place in the NFC South behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6) with five games remaining. Jansen, a 2013 Pro Bowl selection, is the only player on the roster from the 2014 team that won its final four games to win the division with a 7-8-1 record and ultimately a playoff game.
“He’s just one of those uncles that just knows everything,’’ Thompson said. “We talk to JJ about everything, whether it’s life, football, economics, politics ... whatever it is, JJ has an answer for it. He’s one of the smartest guys on this team. If you’re not hanging with JJ, then you’ve got to change your group.’’
Long-snappers aren’t typically thought of as go-to leaders. That typically belongs to every-down players. But interim coach Steve Wilks reminds that Jansen, a team captain the past two seasons, isn’t your typical long-snapper.
“He’s a leader with a culture in which we’re trying to create because he knows what that is,’’ said Wilks, who was with Jansen during his first go-around (2012-2017) at Carolina as a position coach. “Yes, it’s hard for him to be a true leader because he’s not out there being the ‘superstar’ guy. But his experience has a lot of value and people respect him in that locker room.’’
WILKS TOOK A moment to remind of Jansen’s streak before taking questions after Sunday’s 23-10 victory against the Denver Broncos.
“Hell of a gentleman,’’ he said. “I was going to say young man, but he is not a young man.’’
Wilks smiled, then added, “I love JJ’’
A few minutes earlier, team owner David Tepper gave Jansen a game ball for his milestone. Jansen, who always has something to say, barely could get out a word through tears as players shouted “speech.’’
“It caught me off guard,’’ Jansen admitted.
Nothing catches Jansen off guard on the field. He hasn’t had a bad snap since the 2010 opener. That’s close to 2,000 snaps when you consider he averaged 139 snaps a season from 2012 -- when snap counts first were recorded -- to now.
But as often is the case with players, it’s the mistake they remember the most. So Jansen remembers vividly Sept. 12, 2010 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
“We had a really heavy rain,’’ Jansen recalled. “The ball got soaked. It was the first year of the new turf there and I go to pull the ball and it doesn’t even come out of my hands. I thought the ball stuck in the ground. It rolled five or six yards back.
“Your heart is in your throat and it feels awful, but you do your very best to realize, ‘Hey, there are outliers. Nobody’s perfect.’ It was kind of a weird, wonky moment for a young guy in his career.’’
Someone was cutting onions in here 🥺 pic.twitter.com/FHwaWEV8Cu— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 27, 2022
THE PANTHERS TRIED to replace Jansen in 2020 when they made the rare decision to use a draft pick on a long-snapper, Alabama’s Thomas Fletcher in the sixth round. Jansen was making just over $1 million a year after signing a five-year, $5.5 million deal in 2016, and the team was in a cost-cutting mode -- as it was in 2009 when it traded a conditional 2011 seventh-round pick to the Packers for Jansen, who never played a snap for them after signing as a 2008 undrafted free agent.
Jansen fought off Fletcher the way he fought off his fear of being cut in 2009.
“The tough part about being a pro athlete is you do deal with a lot of insecurity because you're being judged on your performance daily,’’ Jansen said.
There’s no insecurity in Jansen these days. Between his faith and friendship with Kasay, now involved in a Charlotte ministry, he’s secure enough that his goal is to play “another four or five years.’’
Yes, that would put him in his 40s. No, he doesn’t plan to become the Tom Brady (age 45) of long-snappers -- because of the woman who wouldn’t let him quit 14 years ago.
“My wife has said that she's cutting me off before 45,’’ Jansen said. “And I'm not arguing with her, but if I can get up to 40 that would really be a cool thing to go after.’’