- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — He has never scored a touchdown, caught a pass or carried the football. His tackles have been few and far between, and he has thrown just one pass in 11 seasons in the NFL.

Adam Vinatieri has, however, proved this: He is completely unflappable when it counts. When time has almost expired, when the outcome is on the line, when the pressure and the stakes are the greatest, he is money.

Only three times in its 40-year history has the Super Bowl been won with a last-minute field goal. Vinatieri kicked two of them — and they weren’t chip shots either.

“I’ve always wanted to be that guy that had the ball at my foot or in my hands,” Vinatieri said. “I enjoy being right in the middle of that stuff. As a kicker, you only have a few choice times during the game that you’re out on the field. The times that you’re out there you have to take advantage of each situation.”

No kicker has taken better advantage of those situations in the postseason.

Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to lift the New England Patriots over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and he booted a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining to push the Patriots past the Carolina Panthers two years later.

Vinatieri left the Patriots as a free agent to join the Indianapolis Colts in March. He made 25 of 28 field goal attempts in the regular season and is 11-for-11 in the postseason to help put the Colts in their first Super Bowl in 36 years.

“Adam has been exceptional all year,” coach Tony Dungy said. “You feel like he’s going to make it every time he goes out there.”

The top-seeded Colts were bounced from the first round of the playoffs last season because high-strung kicker Mike Vanderjagt shanked a last-minute, 46-yard field goal attempt.

Vanderjagt was out in Indianapolis after that. Vinatieri took his place.

He impressed from the start with his new team. He ran with the linebackers in the first conditioning drills. He opened preseason with a perfect onside kick, a 53-yard field goal and a kickoff 7 yards deep into the end zone the first three times he put his foot to the ball.

Linebacker Cato June said when Vinatieri signed he thought the Colts might have found the missing ingredient to end years of playoff frustration. But Vinatieri, arguably as famous as any kicker in NFL history, keeps it low-key.

“Adam’s like a rock star, but he doesn’t act like one,” holder/punter Hunter Smith said.

Then, how about one of the most clutch players in history, a player with the same cool-under-pressure character as, say, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods? Vinatieri is, after all, the most prolific kicker in postseason history and the fourth-most accurate in regular season history.

“I don’t know that I put myself in the same categories as any of those guys,” Vinatieri said. “I’m fortunate enough to step on the field a handful of times. As far as this X-factor thing, hopefully I just brought a little bit of extra leadership and maybe some experience.”

So much so that Dungy took the rare step of having a kicker address the team as most of the Colts began preparations last week for their first Super Bowl.

“It helped to have Adam and [receiver] Ricky Proehl talk,” Dungy said. “Both of those guys have experienced a win and a loss in the Super Bowl. They explained the difference and what it means to be on the winning side and what it feels like to be on the losing side.”

Vinatieri, 34, said the best advice he gave his younger teammates was to treat Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears like any other.

“There’s a lot of hoopla and a three-ring circus with the Super Bowl at the end, but really we are here just for the game at the end,” Vinatieri said. “The team that prepares the best, focuses the best, are things that lead to the team that plays the best, and that’s the team that will win.

“If that means I have the opportunity on my foot at the end of the game, you’ve got to be prepared for that. If it comes, great. If it doesn’t, I’m going to do whatever I can to help my team, and if that means screaming as loud as I can, I’ll do that, too.”

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