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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #34: Adam Vinatieri

In the aftermath of a ho-hum Super Bowl, as we head into the doldrums of the sports calendar, I feel compelled to take a moment to acknowledge the greatest kicker who ever lived. Certainly the most clutch. The guy who made the two most important kicks in NFL history.

Vinatieri showed up in New England in 1996 - when I was still in college! - and played for the Big Tuna. As a rookie he chased down an aging Herschel Walker from behind on a kickoff return, prompting Parcells to observe: "you're not a kicker, you're a football player." That season ended somewhat ignominiously for Vinatieri. After pulling to within a score in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers, the Patriots lined up to kick off. Vinatieri booted it at Desmond Howard, who brought it 99 yards back for a touchdown. The Pats never threatened in the game again.

Things would get better for Vinatieri. In a game some remember for the proper enforcement of the tuck rule, he kicked a 45-yard field goal into the howling wind and snow in the last game at old Foxboro Stadium, sending the AFC Divisional playoff game against Oakland into overtime. He'd later win the game with another, much shorter kick. The 45-yarder to force overtime is generally considered the most clutch kick in league history.

Later that season, Vinatieri would etch his name even deeper in Patriots lore, nailing a 48-yarder as time expired to beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Tom Brady's drive into field goal range despite the dire pronouncements of analyst John Madden, and Vinateri's splitting of the uprights launched the greatest dynasty in NFL history. Of course, Vinatieri would replicate the feat two years later against the Panthers in SB XXXVIII (a game in which he did not play well, missing two earlier attempts). He also provided the margin of victory against the Eagles in SB XXXIX, though somewhat less dramatically.

Word is Vinatieri is still playing, having kicked for the Colts the last 15 years (and adding another ring to his collection with Indianapolis). He's played in more games than anyone in league history (regular season and playoffs combined). He's attempted and made more field goals, scored more points, among a slew of other NFL records. He's tied with Tom Brady for most regular-season wins by a player at a single position, with 226. But all of the records are a testament to his longevity, not his greatness. His greatness was evident in the snow in Foxboro, when his right leg carried the hopes and dreams of an entire region and delivered. He rightfully was named to the NFL 100 team, and should be the fifth placekicker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If he ever retires.

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