Vinatieri still hanging around in Indianapolis
After another victory on Thursday, rookie sensation Andrew Luck is the talk of the National Football League. He has his Colts at 6-3 and in good position to make a playoff run, just a season after the franchise was the laughing stock of the league.
The first overall pick of the draft has quickly made people in Indianapolis forget about future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, and if there is a man who knows about a young quarterback defying expectations look no further than 39-year old Adam Vinatieri.
In his seventh season removed from the New England Patriots, arguably the most clutch kicker to ever play the game is quietly still trudging along. Although a bit grayer nowadays, he is still one of the better place-kickers, and with the game on the line, there’s nobody better in the business.
Despite only hitting 75 percent of his kicks, the lowest percentage he’s had since 2003, he has nailed a career high five kicks of 50 plus yards, and all 16 of his extra point attempts. Last season he was a bit better hitting 85 percent of his kicks, but with Manning on the sidelines the Colts finished 2-14, and Vinatieri was seemingly lost in Football obscurity, along with his horrid team.
Some people don’t even realize that the legend is still kicking, because nobody really cares about kickers, especially one playing on a two-win football team. However, the losing was something new to the veteran out of South Dakota State University.
During his time with the Patriots, he appeared in four Super Bowls, winning three with coach Belichick and Tom Brady. After leaving as a free agent in 2006 he went on to win another ring alongside Manning, and watched the Colts reach another Super Bowl in 2009 while he was injured.
His four pieces of gaudy jewelry leave him tied with twenty-two others behind Charles Haley, who won five titles while playing for the Cowboys and 49ers. In the post Manning-era the Horseshoe was supposed to be rebuilding however, they have become the feel good story in sports with their young QB, and inspiring play for their cancer-stricken head coach Chuck Pagano.
There is a familiar winning atmosphere in Indy and Vinatieri is one of the few calming voices in a young lock-room. Sure veterans Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis are still around, but the team was left with a gaping leadership void after losing Manning, and his longtime lieutenants Jeff Saturday and Dallas Clark. They also lost defensive Captain Gary Brackett and Justin Snow, who was the team’s long snapper dating back to 2000.
Vinatieri may not be in the trenches on Sundays, but he has surely accomplished enough in this league to earn the respect of his younger contemporaries. In what started New England’s run of dominance, during a 2001 playoff game in a blizzard against the Oakland Raiders he drilled a 45-yard field goal to tie the game 13–13 and send it into overtime. He later won the contest with a 23 yards chip-shot in the arctic conditions.
In the Super Bowl he kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play to give the Patriots their first Super Bowl victory, a 20–17 win over the St. Louis Rams. Two years later, and in an almost identical situation, he kicked a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII to lift New England to another championship, when they defeated the Carolina Panthers 32-29.
Since coming into the league as an undrafted rookie in 1996, he has been one of the most influential and decorated kickers to ever step foot on the gridiron. His clutch right foot is as responsible for the Patriots dynastic years as anyone, and will one day reunite him in Canton with Brady, Belichick, Manning, and who knows maybe one day Luck.
When it comes to specialized players, excluding goalies in hockey, he may be the most significant in sports history behind the great Mariano Rivera. The iconic Yankees closer is known as the greatest baseball postseason weapon ever, and is a huge reason behind the Yankees five Championships.
Vinatieri may not be celebrated like Rivera, but he is also automatic in the postseason, and has been a major weapon on four Championship teams himself. Like Mariano, he also holds countless postseason records. In the playoffs his 42 fields goals, and 187 points are tops. His 7 field goals, and 13 extra points in the Super Bowl are also the most ever.
If he never existed the whole football landscape changes and who knows if New England wins any of those Super Bowls without his clutch leg. The ironic thing is that New England has yet to win the big one since his departure.
Adding to Vinatieri’s lore is that he probably shouldn’t be here. His great-great grandfather Felix was Gen. George Custer’s bandmaster, and if Custer decided to take his band into the battle at Little Bighorn, Adam would have never existed, and Felix would have been wiped out with the entire Calvary.
Not many kickers get the limelight, because most just come and go; they’re either the goat or just someone who did his job. But, Vinatieri is someone special and his value or place in history cannot be overlooked.
The under appreciation of kickers extends all the way to the NFL Hall of Fame, where Jan Stenerud is the only player enshrined who was solely a place kicker. He kicked for the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings between 1967-1985. He ended his career with 1,699 total points which is currently only good for 12th on the all-time list.
Vinatieri currently sits 9th on that list with 1,820 career points, but that’s not even where his legacy lies. With the recent retirements of longtime Patriots Kevin Faulk and Matt Light, he, Brady, and Richard Seymour are the last remaining remnants of all three New England Super Bowl winning teams.
The Patriots dynastic years are long in the past, and when Vinatieri won his first ring in 2001, he watched a 24-year old Brady lead the Pats on an improbable title run, just after being drafted in the sixth round a year prior. He only completed one of three snaps in 2000 and was basically a rookie, but without the worldly expectations that come with being the number one pick, or even a first round pick.
That mammoth pressure of being the top pick is now on the shoulders of Luck, and he has excelled during his first nine games in the league. He has helped bring excitement back to Indianapolis, and maybe he can get one of football’s greatest postseason weapons back to the place where he and the Colts are most familiar.