- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

MIAMI. — Some pro football players make the Hall of Fame, and some — like the Colts’ Ricky Proehl — make the Hall of Almosts. You know the type. Guys like Buffalo’s Scott Norwood, who missed a game-winning field goal at the end of Super Bowl 25 by the width of, well, Scott Norwood. Or Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson, who came up a yard short of the game-tying touchdown on the last play of SB 34. Or, more comically, Dallas’ Leon Lett, who scooped up a fumble late in SB 27 and lumbered 64 yards — only to have the ball knocked out of his hand by a Buffalo Bill as he was about to cross the goal line.

Proehl tops them all, though. Proehl is the Archduke of Almosts. Why? Because what happened once to Norwood, Dyson and Lett happened twice to him.

You probably don’t remember either episode. That’s OK, Proehl is used to being forgotten. Despite catching 669 passes in a 17-year career, he has never made the Pro Bowl, not even as an alternate. Of course, it wasn’t until his 10th season that he got to play on a winning team. It’s hard to become famous on a succession of 4-12 clubs (two in Arizona, one in Chicago and one in St. Louis).

In Super Bowls 36 and 38, though, Proehl came through with two game-tying touchdown grabs in the l st two minutes of the game. What other receiver in NFL history can say that? Alas, the memory of them has been almost totally erased because of one man: Adam Vinatieri.

Yes, that was Proehl who caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner in SB 36, pulling the Rams even with the Patriots with 1:37 left. And yes, that was Proehl again who caught a 12-yard TD pass from Carolina’s Jake Delhomme in SB 38, knotting the score with just 1:08 to go.

But both times, Tom Brady marched the Pats downfield. And both times, the bloodless Vinatieri trotted in to kick the game-winner — and leave Proehl prostrate.

“Honestly, you hate the guy,” Proehl said of Vinatieri. “To see your dreams come crashing down when he kicks those field goals. … He’s the best. Brady was playing with house money at the end of those games because he had Vinatieri, who had done it before. And those kicks were right down the middle, too. The two biggest kicks of his life, and they couldn’t have been any more perfect.”

Not that Proehl ever thinks about What Might Have Been, about how differently his life might have turned out if Vinatieri had missed.

“I think about it all the time — about me being more recognizable,” he says. “If we go on to win those games, my name is much bigger on the national stage.”

Indeed, he might be looked upon as one of the all-time clutch receivers. Especially since those aren’t the only huge plays he’s made as a pro. In the ‘99 NFC Championship game, you may recall, he hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Warner with 4:44 remaining to give St. Louis an 11-6 victory over Tampa Bay.

The football gods must be trying to make it up to him, because here he is in Miami, getting ready to play in his fourth Super Bowl at the age of 38. This wasn’t in his plans at all. Indeed, he had retired from the Panthers after last season and was doing TV and radio work on Rams broadcasts when the Colts sent out a distress signal in November. They were about to put Brandon Stokley on injured reserve and were looking for a reliable receiver who had experience in big games. Proehl didn’t take much convincing. Who wouldn’t want to catch passes from Peyton Manning?

As an added bonus, he gets to play with Vinatieri now instead of against him. So if he does anything spectacular Sunday against the Bears, Adam won’t be able to delete it from the collective conscious. (That is, unless he boots a record-breaking 64-yard field goal in overtime after Ricky ties it with a touchdown at the end of regulation.)

“Actually,” Proehl says, “I had met him before at a golf tournament — [Notre Dame coach] Charlie Weis’ down in South Carolina. But now we’re teammates, so I’ve gotten to know him. He’s a super guy. It makes you feel better.”

They’re linked in history, for better or worse, and now they’re wearing the same uniform, too. There’s something poetic about that. Colts coach Tony Dungy even had them address the team before it left for Florida — and share some of their Super Bowl expertise. Unlike Vinatieri, Proehl has been on both sides of it, winning with the Rams in SB 34 before suffering his two heartbreaks.

When he hangs ‘em up after Sunday’s game — “This is it,” he insists — Proehl won’t be going into the Hall of Fame. But Vinatieri might well wind up there — thanks, in part, to the dramatic circumstances Ricky helped create. They’ve already had a discussion about this.

“I’ve told Adam that when he goes into Canton, he’d better have me up on that stage next to him,” he says. “I’ve been his wing man.”

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