WESTFIELD, Ind. – A.J. or Gabriel or Allison might question good ol’ dad when he offers unsolicited advice during family time around the dinner table or on the ride home from the latest sporting event.
Why did you do that? How could you have done it better? Differently? Next time, try this or that.
A.J.: Sez who?
Sez the voice of experience, that’s who.
That would be good ol’ dad: Adam Vinatieri.
No active player in the NFL has a deeper pool of knowledge from which to draw when it comes to sharing life lessons – good and bad – and offering counsel to the next wave of rookies that bolsters the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room.
Vinatieri, just the fourth player in NFL history to play at age 46, was approachable and a willing mentor two years ago when Rigoberto Sanchez, a 22-year-old undrafted rookie out of Hawaii, replaced Pat McAfee. More recently, he’s been there – upon request, of course – for rookies Parris Campbell, Rock Ya-Sin, Cole Hedlund or whomever else has a question regarding life in the NFL, or life in general.
He’s appeared in 353 regular-season games, tied for second-most in NFL history. And let’s not forget his 32 postseason games and four championship rings. His 2,600 points are an all-time NFL record he’ll add to this season.
He’s been exposed to the disparate coaching styles of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, Chuck Pagano and Frank Reich.
“I always thought Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick had the only ways to win,” Vinatieri said. “Then I get here with Tony and his staff and we won a Super Bowl.
“I was like, ‘Oh, there’s different ways of doing it.’ Everybody has their own style, their own feel.”
Before walking gingerly around Parcells as a rookie with the New England Patriots in 1996, Vinatieri’s coaching guru was closer to home. His father, Paul, was his soccer coach in high school. He occasionally coached his son in football and baseball.
“He was always around,” Vinatieri said.
Paul Vinatieri came from the School of No-Nonsense.
“I’m somewhere in between,” Vinatieri said. “I’m a little softer than my dad was, but not that much. He was a military guy. My grandpa was a super hard-ass.
“If you ask my wife, she’d say, ‘You’re not a softy.'”
Vinatieri offers no excuses for being the father/friend/counselor to his three kids. He firmly believes he’s taken a little of something from each coach he’s dealt with, and that’s molded him into a demanding, yet understanding and tolerant dad.
A.J. is 16 and a sophomore at Carmel H.S. He’s an outfielder in baseball – “He hits the (expletive) out of the ball,” dad said – and a tight end/punter/kicker (of course) in football. Gabriel, 9, is concentrating on soccer until his mom, Valerie, is convinced he’s old enough to endure the physical risks (head trauma) of football.
Allison? The 14-year-old showed an early interest in soccer and basketball, but that has changed.
“My daughter rides horses, which is a different sport, but I still call it a sport,” Vinatieri said. “She fell in love with horses. That’s her passion.”
Whether it’s being a pseudo-coach or simply offering fatherly advice on football, baseball, soccer or equestrian matters, Vinatieri draws from his 24-year experience in the NFL. He invariably refers to something he gleaned from Parcells or Belichick or Dungy.
His overriding teaching tool: Be tough, but be fair.
“And always shower them with love and encouragement,” Vinatieri said. “But at the same time, let them know, ‘You can do better.”’
Valerie, he added, “actually appreciates the way I do it. She says, ‘You’re tough, but you’re fair with them.’ She likes that because she didn’t play sports much growing up. She’s like, ‘I don’t know what to say to them and you’re better at it.’
“When the kids stand up and walk away from the dinner table, they’ll go, ‘Dad, that was fair.’ Good or bad, I always try to build them up at the end to let them know, ‘Hey, you did good. We love you. But we can do a little better or we can do this or that.'”
It’s constructive criticism, not cutting words from one of those overbearing Little League dads who too often squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment from their young kid’s soul.
Spend time with Vinatieri and you’ll quickly realize he’s one of the most competitive individuals on the planet. He can be understated, but occasionally that competitive disposition oozes to the surface when he’s in the bleachers for one of his kids’ events.
“I’m probably one of the most quiet spectators when I go to one of my kids’ things,” he said. “But don’t get me wrong, I’ve still got a sarcastic, smart-ass kind of attitude in the background. I’ll give some crap to the coach.
“I’m not that yelling and screaming and rowdy guy, but they know that I’m there.”
It’s on the drive home that dad and son/daughter discuss what went on.
“I’m brutally honest,” Vinatieri said. “(A.J.) will probably tell you, ‘My dad is way more critical than my coaches are.’
“Look, I’ll praise the heck of him when he does a good job, but I’ll also let him know, ‘Hey, you’re better than that. You can do better. I think you let yourself down. I think you let your team down.’ But it’s never condescending.”
Vinatieri realizes the risk of coming down too hard.
“Yeah, they don’t ever want to play again,” he said. “You hear about it all the time.”
Vinatieri installed a batting cage and pitching machine in the backyard of his Carmel residence so A.J. could hone his hitting eye. A.J. used it a ton early, then the novelty wore off.
“You know how many times he uses the batting cage now?” Vinatieri asked. “Hardly ever.”
Instead of pushing A.J. to make better use of the investment, dad resists the urge.
“My 9-year-old will grab his bat and go out there and use it,” Vinatieri said. “My point is if I make (A.J.) go out there for an hour every day, he’s going to resent that and quit it.”
This point of A.J.’s athletic life is all about enjoying the moment and discovering what’s truly important to him.
“Sports are still pure in high school,” Vinatieri said. “You’re doing it for the love of the game. You’re not getting paid, you’re not on scholarship. It should be fun. If we’re taking the fun out of it because we’re being asses to our kids, that’s just wrong.
“Don’t get me wrong. Correct them. Let them know and be honest with them, but don’t go overboard.”
And don’t ever threaten to withhold dinner if one of the kids fails to measure up.
“Well, I’ve threatened that as a joke,” Vinatieri said with a wry smile. “Like, ‘Well, doesn’t look like you’re eating tonight.'”
He was joking. Even Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick wouldn’t go to that extreme.
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