INDIANAPOLIS — All Adam Vinatieri ever wanted was a chance to play in the NFL.
When he finally finishes his remarkable career, he may go down as the best kicker in league history.
The man who has four Super Bowl rings, been dubbed the NFL’s best clutch kicker and become the measuring stick for all future kickers will chase yet another milestone this weekend when he attempts to join the league’s prestigious 2,000-point club.
“I never really considered it till this year and then when I did, I thought ‘It would be kind of cool,’” said Vinatieri, the Colts kicker who needs six points Sunday against Jacksonville to become the seventh NFL player with 2,000. “It really says a lot about the teams I’ve played for. It’s a neat goal and it’s a cool milestone.”
Almost as cool as he has been when his teammates have needed him to excel in Super Bowls, the snow and cold weather.
Yes, Vinatieri, who turns 41 Saturday, has been fortunate.
He spent his entire 18-year career with two of the league’s most successful franchises, the Patriots and Colts. He worked for three Super Bowl-winning coaches — Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy. He played with two of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — and is playing now with perhaps the best young quarterback of the next generation, Andrew Luck.
But Vinatieri also managed to step out from all those long shadows and proved he could stand on his own two feet.
—Brady and Belichick would not have reached their first Super Bowl without Vinatieri making two kicks on a snowy New England night that became known as the “Tuck Rule Game.” And they probably would not have won their first two Super Bowls without last-minute kicks from Vinatieri against St. Louis and Carolina.
—Manning and Dungy would not have won gotten their Super Bowl title, either, without Vinatieri, who made five field goals in a chilly 15-6 divisional-round win at Baltimore in 2007.
— Vinatieri is the only kicker to play in five Super Bowls and be part of six conference championships.
— His 16 100-point seasons are tied with Jason Elam for the most in league history.
— He and Morten Andersen are the only NFL players to top 800 points with two different teams.
Sometimes the memories fade from public view, like the 4-yard TD pass Vinatieri threw to Troy Brown against St. Louis in 2004 or the toughness he displayed at training camp in 1996 that helped Parcells make the decision to keep him as a rookie. And other times, Vinatieri wishes the images would go away — like the Super Bowl kickoff returns from Desmond Howard in 1997 and Devin Hester a decade later.
They never do.
“That one I remember like it was yesterday,” Vinatieri said when asked about his diving attempt to take down Howard, an image captured in a photo that has been displayed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But the reason Vinatieri has survived this long is that he never allowed the good times or bad linger long enough to make a difference.
Even now, after spending most of this season as the league’s oldest player, he’s still going strong. Last weekend, Vinatieri set a career high for field goals in a season (32), his percentage of 86.5 is the fifth highest of his career and he’s tuning up for yet another playoff appearance with the Colts (10-5).
“The only thing that’s changed about Vinny is the grayness in his beard,” punter Pat McAfee said Friday. “He’s the same guy he’s always been.”
A tireless worker.
Sure, the South Dakota State grad and NFL Europe alum who once wondered if he’d ever get a chance to prove himself in the NFL, takes time off now and then to hunt, but the reason he’s still kicking around this league is that football is his No. 1 job.
“It’s because of the work he puts in in the offseason, the work ethic he has,” McAfee said. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on the hips and joints, so you have to keep your body in great shape. It’s a very explosive movement, kicking, which is why a lot of people can kick and punt but they can’t do it for very long. He does it because he puts the work in.”
How much longer can Vinatieri keep doing this? He thinks he’s still got a few more years and he’d like to finish his career Indy even though his contract expires after the season.
If this his last go-round with the Colts, Vinatieri has a chance to go out in style.
He enters Sunday with 1,994 career points and needs nine against Jacksonville (4-11) to pass George Blanda (2,002) for sixth place. Former teammate Matt Stover is fifth at 2,004. If he comes back next season, Vinatieri could move past John Carney (2,062) and possibly Jason Hanson (2,150) into third all-time. That would leave only Morten Andersen (2,544) and Gary Anderson (2,434) ahead of him. None of those numbers includes Vinatieri’s NFL-record 196 postseason points, either.
But now that the Colts are in the playoffs, this goal is simple: Bring home one more Super Bowl ring.
“That’s why you play football,” Vinatieri said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have that opportunity. When everybody does their job, there’s plenty of credit to go around.”