The most clutch kicker in NFL history is about to become its all-time leading scorer, but 45-year-old Adam Vinatieri isn't ready to call it quits yet. Canton can wait.
By Judy Battista | Published Oct. 16, 2018
He wore the new NFL Scouting Combine T-shirt unironically, Adam Vinatieri promised, only because he liked how it looked in a store, the shirt denoting those at the very beginning of their NFL careers in sharp contrast to the wearer, with his graying hair and ballooning records.
Vinatieri wasn't even invited to the combine when he came out of South Dakota State, he added with a smirk, but that was more than 20 years and a whole lot of kicks ago, and who knows how much combine-branded merchandise even existed then?
Just minutes before in a minicamp practice with the Indianapolis Colts, he had booted a 62-yard field goal, as straight and true as the 45-yarder launched into a New England snow globe that made him an instant legend, even among his peers, a kick Bill Belichick believes is the greatest in history. That was nearly 17 years ago. Arguably the most clutch kick in NFL history -- in a blizzard, to send an AFC Divisional Round playoff game into overtime, to begin the Patriots' dynasty -- is merely the most memorable building block in a career that has made Vinatieri perhaps the greatest kicker in football history.
Having just broken Hall of Famer Morten Andersen's career record for field goals in Week 4, Vinatieri is now on the cusp of supplanting Andersen as the league's all-time leading scorer. Andersen retired in December 2008 (after the 2007 season, he was unable to obtain another contract) with 2,544 points. Vinatieri has 2,535, has already accounted for 48 this season and shows no perceptible signs of being unable to extend the record for a few more seasons, if he chooses.
Andersen was close to the end of his career -- in his mid-40s and setting every kicking and scoring record that Vinatieri will soon hold -- when Vinatieri, still nearer to the beginning of his own tenure, approached Andersen before a game.
"I remember him at around 45, and I said, 'I can't believe you're still doing this,' " Vinatieri recalled. "I remember him telling me he wanted to make it to 50. To be able to play a couple of decades, I never thought I'd play that long."
Andersen didn't quite make it to 50 -- he was 47 in his final season with Atlanta -- but Vinatieri's incredulity at his forerunner's longevity has come full circle. At 45, Vinatieri is, quite literally, the NFL's graybeard, its oldest current player, his consistency and powerful leg belying the fact that eight of his current Colts teammates were born in the same year Vinatieri first kicked in the NFL -- 1996 -- and that locker-room conversations with Vinatieri veer toward kicker-as-life-coach, with questions about how to manage everything from marriage to finances. Even Anderson, who was motivated to stick around long enough to set the scoring record, could not find consistent employment like Vinatieri has.
Captured in a grainy video on YouTube is a handy reference point for the long arc of Vinatieri's career. After the Patriots won that snow-covered overtime game over the Oakland Raiders -- and, a few weeks later, captured their first Super Bowl with a game-winning Vinatieri field goal, in February of 2002 -- he appeared on "Late Show with David Letterman." The gag was that Vinatieri, in street clothes, would kick footballs from the dark roof of a Manhattan building, over traffic-clogged streets, to a lone businessman standing in the shadows on the top floor of a parking garage a few blocks away.