INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Adam Vinatieri remembers New England fondly.
In 10 seasons, he won three Super Bowl rings, was dubbed the league’s best clutch kicker and became the top scorer in franchise history. He has made the routine kicks look easy and the impossible ones look routine while earning the respect of two of the league’s greatest coaches and one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks..
On Thursday, the 45-year-old kicker and the NFL’s newly crowned career field goals leader returns to his former home stadium, perhaps for the final time.
“I suppose any person who’s played somewhere for a certain amount of time and then has the opportunity to go back and just reminisce a little bit, maybe it holds a different feeling than some of the other places,” Vinatieri said Tuesday. “But I’m thinking more about how can we get a win and right the ship and get back where we need to be.”
Vinatieri knows better than to expect a warm welcome for the Colts (1-3) and himself.
Since signing with the dreaded Colts as a free agent in March 2006, Vinatieri has watched the video tributes former stars like Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James received when they returned to Indy with new teams. He’s seen former players such as Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis, and former coaches like Frank Reich come back to work inside the organization.
But New England treats former players and coaches differently.
Vinatieri shrugs off the chorus of boos he’s heard at Gillette Stadium over the past dozen seasons, choosing instead to focus on those who acknowledge afterward just how much they actually respect him for having such a big hand in each of the franchise’s first three Super Bowl titles.
Back in 2006, New England figured it could find a cheaper, younger kicker than Vinatieri and the truth is, it worked out perfectly for both sides. Vinatieri found a home inside the controlled climate of Lucas Oil Stadium and has gone on to chase bigger and better milestones. His replacement with Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski, broke Vinatieri’s franchise scoring record and is currently ranked No. 18 all-time with 1,642 points as the Pats (2-2) have gone 8-4 against Vinatieri’s Colts. New England has won six of seven in Foxborough and seven straight in the series - including the 2014 AFC championship game, better known as “Deflategate.”
Still, Vinatieri seems to be aging like a fine wine.
He made two more field goals Sunday to break Morten Andersen’s career mark of 565 and heads back to New England needing one field goal attempt to break a tie with Gary Anderson (672) for second all-time. With 26 points, Vinatieri will break Morten Andersen’s career scoring record (2,544 points), and Vinatieri just passed Hall of Famer George Blanda for fourth in games played.
“I’m the second oldest guy in the locker room and my first year of playing football was his second year in the league,” Matt Slauson, the Colts’ 32-year-old right guard, said recently. “So he’s not only had one incredible career, he’s essentially had two incredible careers with two different teams. It’s amazing.”
The least surprised guy on the field Thursday might be Bill Belichick, who was an assistant coach on Bill Parcells’ staff when Vinatieri won the Patriots’ kicking job in 1996 over 18-year veteran Matt Bahr.
Belichick watched the rookie kicker save his job with a 40-yard field goal into the wind and rain in a Week 3 victory over Arizona and make a textbook tackle while chasing down Herschel Walker to save a touchdown later that season.
He will never forget the two kicks Vinatieri made in the Snow Bowl/Tuck Rule Game, the first to force overtime and the second to eliminate the Raiders in the divisional round, or the two last-minute Super Bowl winning kicks Vinatieri made to beat the Rams and Panthers.
“Certainly, in my opinion, the greatest kicker in the game. Not just for his longevity and production but again the magnitude of some of the kicks that he made and the difficulty,” Belichick said on a conference call with Indy reporters this week. “Back in 2001, it seemed like every game came down to the last possession or the last kick. Every point was critical. Those games we won in 2001 and 2003 - especially in the early part of the year in 2003 - were all close games and tough ones. Adam came through for us with some enormous kicks.”
Now, though, things clearly are winding down.
Vinatieri signed a 1-year deal this offseason to stay in Indy and the current scheduling format doesn’t have the Colts playing another round-robin against the AFC East until 2022.
So if this is his last stand in New England, the South Dakota native whose great-great grandfather served as General George Custer’s bandmaster has one goal: win one more time.
“It very well could be. Shoot, any game could be your last game ever, you know, so I haven’t contemplated that too terribly much,” he said. “It’s a game that we really must win, we need to win and that would be a real good way to stick it to them.”
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