INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They count the same, but all field goals are not created equal.
Exhibit A: Adam Vinatieri’s next field goal – No. 566 – will be cut above the previous 565. When it comes, and that could be Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts entertain Houston at Lucas Oil Stadium, the ageless placekicker will supplant Morten Andersen in the NFL record books.
“They’re all special and hopefully this one, the next 10, the next 20 or however many, I’ll just be able to sit back and enjoy them,’’ Vinatieri said Thursday. “Sometimes I get so focused in on football and the game that I don’t realize the cool factor of being in the situation we’re in right now.
“For me, it’s just a kick that puts us on the board to hopefully win the next game.’’
But again, the next one is special.
“At some point I’ll look back on it and say, ‘Man, 566 field goals. That’s pretty cool,’’’ he said with a smile.
The countdown to eclipsing Andersen began 23 years ago in Miami’s Pro Player Stadium. It was Sept. 1, 1996 and Vinatieri was an anxious 23-year hoping to stay out of Bill Parcells’ doghouse and keep his job with the New England Patriots. On a day the Patriots would get rolled 24-10, Vinatieri got everything rollin’ with his first career field goal.
It apparently was memorable only because it was his first.
“The first one was a 30-something yarder,’’ he said, searching his memory.
No, it was a 25-yarder in the second quarter.
“OK, 25,’’ he said. “And we lost.’’
Twenty-three years later, Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest active player at 45, finds himself about to tip over one of the historical dominoes within his reach when the season began. Another – arguably the most significant – looms. He’s on pace to become the NFL’s career scoring leader; give him about a month or so. Andersen sits atop the list with 2,544 points. Vinatieri needs 34 to again one-up the Hall of Fame placekicker.
But today we’re talking about field goals and how some invariably resonate more than others.
“Certain ones do,’’ Vinatieri agreed. “Certain games are more memorable and certain kicks are more memorable.’’
That in mind, here’s Vinatieri’s Mount Rushmore of Field Goals. (Actually, Mount Rushmore with five faces.)
- 48-yarder as time expired in Super Bowl XXXVI to give the underdog Patriots a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams.
Vinatieri: “I would probably lie if I told you I wasn’t nervous. I’m sure my heart rate was pounding. But it was interesting. It almost seemed like on TV or in movies when everything just slows down and kind of focuses in. I had interaction with my holder and you could see guys talking (trash) with each other and all that.
“But when it really comes down to your moment, you’re really in your small little world. You really are.’’
- 41-yarder with 4 seconds remaining in Super Bowl XXXVIII to give the favored Patriots a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Vinatieri: “When we played the Rams, we were huge underdogs. When we played Carolina, we were the favorites. The first one nobody expected. It was David versus Goliath. The other one (Carolina) was like, ‘Whew, we dodged a bullet.’
“It was more of a relief. We had the opportunity, kicked it, game’s over. If it had kept on going (into overtime), who knows what would have happened. It just had a different feel.
“The fact two years earlier we were in the same situation, I would think you could gain some confidence from that.’’
- 45-yarder with 32 seconds remaining in 2001 AFC Divisional meeting with the Oakland Raiders in blizzard-like conditions in Foxboro Stadium. The kick tied the game at 13-all and forced overtime. Vinatieri’s 23-yarder with 6 minutes to play in OT sent New England to the conference title game.
Vinatieri: “The ‘Snow Kick’ was special. I’m talking about the one to tie it. (Why?) Sheer difficulty and twice the distance. We’re down by 3. Miss it and we’re cleaning out our lockers the next day.’’
- 57-yarder against the Chicago Bears in 2002.
Vinatieri: “That was my longest one. In Champaign (Ill.) against the Bears when we’re getting our butts kicked and we came back and won.’’
(The Patriots trailed 27-13 in the third quarter before rallying for a 33-30 victory. Vinatieri contributed 57-, 31-, 42- and 25-yard field goals.)
- 2006 AFC Divisional game at Baltimore, a 15-6 Colts’ victory and a steppingstone to their win over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.
Vinatieri: “My first season here I had five field goals in Baltimore. I don’t know if one of those kicks stands out more than another one, but that game stands out pretty good.’’
(The Colts signed Vinatieri away from the Patriots in the offseason for occasions like this. He accounted for all of Indy’s scoring with 23-, 42-, 51-, 48- and 35-yard field goals.)
“I walked out of that game thinking, ‘OK, that’s why you’re here.’’