INDIANAPOLIS – He sat and watched as one game after another – shoot, one play after another and one kick after another – further reinforced the NFL’s undeniable status as King of Must-See TV.
He was hunkered down at his Zionsville home because he really had no other choice. Before heading out on another of his son’s recruiting trips, he decided to take an at-home COVID-19 test, which proved to be positive.
“I got COVID a couple of days ago, so I’ve been quarantined,’’ Adam Vinatieri said. “All I did was hang out in a guest bedroom downstairs and watch a lot of football.
“It definitely was interesting.’’
Interesting. Yeah, that’s one way to describe the NFL’s historic Walk-off Weekend.
All four Divisional round games were decided on the final play: three game-winning field goals as the clock hit 0:00, and Kansas City’s overtime win against Buffalo on Patrick Mahomes’ 8-yard touchdown that was made possible by Harrison Butker’s 49-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.
“It showed the value of good kickers, that’s for damn sure,’’ Vinatieri said.
That’s the voice of experience.
Before retiring last year following 24 record-setting seasons, including the final 14 with the Indianapolis Colts, Vinatieri set the bar – rather high, of course – for good kickers.
And last weekend, he watched four of them clear that bar and extend their team’s season.
- Rookie Evan McPherson’s 52-yard field goal Saturday in Nashville that lifted the Cincinnati Bengals to a 19-16 upset of the top-seeded Tennessee Titans.
- Robbie Gould’s 45-yarder Saturday evening in frigid Lambeau Field that completed San Francisco’s 13-10 stunner over Green Bay, the NFC’s top seed.
- Matt Gay’s 30-yarder in Tampa that pushed the Los Angeles Rams to a 30-27 win and ignited speculation on Tom Brady’s future with the Buccaneers or any other team.
- Butker’s 49-yard attempt at Arrowhead Stadium that blunted the Buffalo Bills’ upset bid – a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds remaining, remember? – and gave Mahomes an opportunity to spin his magic in OT.
Vinatieri sat there and savored every second, every kick.
“And some of them were in fairly (crappy) weather,’’ he said. “K.C. wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t warm by any means. Green Bay wasn’t a foot of snow, but it was a little bit (crappy).
“They did a great job.’’
On more than one occasion, Vinatieri looked at his flat-screen TV and dealt with flashbacks. During his career, he delivered 29 game-winning field goals. Fourteen came with less than 10 seconds on the clock. Three came on a game’s final play.
He crystalized his reputation as the NFL’s best clutch kicker by delivering two Super Bowl championships to New England: a 48-yard field goal as time expired to beat St. Louis 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI and a 41-yarder with 4 seconds remaining that turned back Carolina 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
“One hundred percent I related to them,’’ Vinatieri said. “I got excited for them. I’m sure my heart started beating a little faster, and I started getting sweaty watching them. ‘OK, here we go.’
“It brought me right back to my days of doing it. It was fun to watch.’’
He sent a text to Gould, one of his close friends in the kicking fraternity. He sent another to former Bengals’ placekicker Shayne Graham who was McPherson’s position coach at the University of Florida.
“I told Shayne, ‘Man, you must have done a great job of coaching him up,’’’ Vinatieri said. “Our little community of kickers celebrate when the guys do good.’’
“It’s not quite the same“
Football has been and always will be a major part of Vinatieri’s life. From Central High School in Rapid City, S.D. to South Dakota State University to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe to 10 legacy-shaping seasons with the New England Patriots to 14 Hall of Fame-cementing seasons with the Colts.
“It’s not quite the same,’’ said Vinatieri, who turned 49 in December.
Not since he decided enough was enough. Not since he officially retired last year after 382 games (including the postseason), six Super Bowl appearances, four world championships and generating the most points (2,673) and field goals (599) in NFL history.
He’ll watch NFL games when possible, but only if they fit in his busy schedule. Or if they serve as an incredible diversion during COVID quarantine.
“I’m as busy as I’ve ever been,’’ Vinatieri said of his post-NFL life. “I don’t make (watching games) a major priority of mine. I won’t drop everything to watch football.’’
On the NFL’s first weekend of the playoffs, Vinatieri and oldest son A.J. were on a recruiting trip to the University of Massachusetts.
“We sat in the hotel and watched Buffalo beat the (heck) out of the Patriots,’’ he said with a laugh. “Football has been part of my entire life, but like I said, it’s not the same.
“Football has been a huge blessing for me, and playing as long as I did allows me to be able to pick my schedule.’’
He’s considered dabbling in broadcasting and sought the counsel of former teammates Matt Hasselbeck and Tedy Bruschi, who have excelled since transitioning into the media environment.
There’s also been a level of interest in Vinatieri doing radio work in some capacity with the Colts.
Until the right situation presents itself, he’ll enjoy being Valerie’s husband and the father of A.J., Allison and Gabriel.
“It’s not like I’m sitting on my butt,’’ Vinatieri said. “I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family.’’
So much of it remains football-centric. That was the case as the end of Vinatieri’s NFL career overlapped with A.J. experiencing the rarity of reaching four straight state championship games – two with Carmel, including one state title; two more with Zionsville. Dad assumed the dual role of kicking coach.
When additional voices were required, Vinatieri reached out to former Colts Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee and current punter Rigoberto Sanchez.
“I see things,’’ Vinatieri said, “but I always like to get a fresh set of eyes. I know I don’t know everything.’’
Occasionally, there was an ulterior motive.
“They’ll tell A.J., ‘Hey, man, listen to your dad. I learned a lot from him. He taught me a bunch of stuff,’’’ Vinatieri said. “I guess it helps to have them validate dad is not just dad, that he knows a little bit of what he’s talking about.’’
The recruitment of A.J. continues – primarily as a punter, but also as a still-developing kicker – and could be decided by national signing day on Feb. 2. He’s received several scholarship offers (among them UMass, Portland State, Quincy, Northern State, Charleston) and numerous preferred walk-on offers (IU, Michigan, LSU, Florida, Miami, Vanderbilt, Marshall, etc.).
“He’s trying to find the exact right situation,’’ Vinatieri said. “Every kid wants to play for a power-5 football and run out in front of 100,000 people and all that stuff.
“I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible but give as much insight as I can. I sit there and I’m asking all the coaches about the educational part and the tutoring and this and that. I tell A.J., ‘Everybody wants to play in the NFL. I did, too. Everybody has the same dream.’ But I tell him for the majority, it doesn’t work out that way.
“I got super lucky and played a long time. But I tell him, ‘At the end of the day, your education is more important than how big the stadium is or whatever.’ I tell him I still value the education I got.’’
Vinatieri’s post-NFL life also involves daughter Allison, who’s on track to graduate early from Zionsville, and youngest son Gabriel.
“He’s the football, baseball, all the above, wild, crazy, maniac kid,’’ he said of Gabriel. “I’m excited for him. He’s a million miles an hour at everything.’’
“I have no regrets”
A million miles an hour is an apt description of Vinatieri’s NFL ride. Big games, big kicks, big wins. Too often, there was little time to stop and enjoy the experience. One season bled into the next.
Then, it stopped.
Deep into the 2019 season – his 24th and worst – Vinatieri was placed on the injured reserve list with a knee injury that plagued him throughout the season and contributed to a career-high 14 missed kicks (eight field goals, six PATs).
In mid-December, he underwent surgery to address a damaged meniscus and patellar tendon in his left knee.
Rehab was long and grueling, and complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After I had my knee surgery I pushed really, really hard,’’ he said. “I did as much treatment as I could do. I lifted. I ran.
“I did everything I could to see if I could get back. And my knee just wasn’t there. Your body will tell you, or you will know. The harder I pushed, they harder it pushed back at me.
“When I finally accepted it, it relieved a whole lot of stress on me. Then I finally accepted it: ‘Hey, dude, you’re 47 years old. You had surgery on your knee, and it’s just not the same, and it’s never going to be the same.’ Once I got to that, my mind was a whole lot better.’’
It was imperative for Vinatieri to push the limits, to make certain a return wasn’t possible.
“I always said I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and know that I did everything I could do,’’ he said. “At that point, it just wasn’t in the cards anymore. But I didn’t want to sit there and wonder, ‘What if?’
“My knee’s still not 100%; it’s not normal, whatever the heck normal is nowadays. But I get around fine. I can do my daily stuff, and I can throw the ball around with the kids.
“I always wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to have to change my quote-unquote quality of life. Hey, I’ve got no regrets. I’m good.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.