Adam Vinatieri, who will be 45 next month, is still going strong. Last year, he made over 87% of his field goals, and didn’t miss an extra point, in his 21st NFL season.
He’s third all-time in points scored, third all-time in field goals made, and one of the greatest to ever play at his position.
A four sport star at South Dakota State, he first played professional football for the Amsterdam Admirals in Europe in 1995. A year later, he was signed as an un-drafted free agent by the New England Patriots
But for 18 inches, he might have been relegated to the margins of professional football for all time instead of being a sure bet for the NFL Hall of Fame.
Here’s what happened.
In the first three games of the 1996 season, his first with New England, he performed very poorly. In week one, he missed three out of four field goal attempts in a loss to Buffalo. Pats coach Bill Parcells began to lose confidence in him. First year kickers underperforming generally are out the door pronto. The position is so important a coach must always have a short list of other guys to go to.
In the second game, Vinatieri missed not only another field goal but an extra point as well. After three weeks, he was kicking field goals at a success rate of only 42%. In week four, the Pats played the Jacksonville Jaguars and he missed another extra point but did connect on three thirty-yard chip shot field goals. At half time, the television commentators discussed who Parcells would bring in to replace the failing Vinatieri
And then one of those strange occurrences of life intervened.
Earlier, the Jags had completed a Hail Mary effort for a touchdown at the half and now with time left for just one play and the score tied at 25-25, from the 50-yard line, quarterback Mark Brunell fired another Hail Mary for the win. The ball was caught on the half-yard line and downed there, eighteen inches shy of the score and a Jacksonville victory.
The game went into overtime and Adam kicked the winning field goal. No way any coach fires a kicker who has just made a clutch kick to win.
For the final 12 games of the 1996 season, Vinatieri would miss just two field goals in helping the Patriots get to the Super Bowl and would then go on to establish himself as one of the greatest kickers in football history.
After nearly cutting Vinatieri after four games, Parcells stated after his kicker caught return man Herschel Walker returning a kickoff, “I just don’t have a kicker. I have a football player!”
Now 21 years later, Adam Vinatieri is still kicking. This year in week 5, he hit 4-4 on field goals, including a 51-yarder in OT to beat the 49ers.
Football is a game of inches. So, sometimes, is life.