Vinatieri’s rise to glory, one kick at a time

Justin Harned Sports Editor


 When the game is on the line, no one has handled the pressure of a game winning field goal better than Adam Vinatieri. 

From nicknames ranging from “Mr. Clutch” to “Iceman,” Vinatieri has kicked and succeeded in pressure packed situations on the biggest of stages. Entering his 18th season in the NFL playing for two teams his entire career, he’s won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots during the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, and one with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. 

Adam Vinatieri was born in Yankton, his father Paul Vinatieri received a job offer in Rapid City where Adam would spend a majority of his younger days after a couple of months in Germany because his father served in the armed forces. Before officially being listed strictly as kicker, Vinatieri played quarterback and middle linebacker in youth football. Perhaps it was fate, but a team tryout proved Vinatieri as the best kicker on the team. 

“I started kicking when I was in Pop Warner football or Midget football … so I was 10 or 11 years old,” Vinatieri said. “We held a team tryout that day, there was a couple of us guys who played soccer, so we all tried out and I was the best one that day … it kind of started then and I kicked every year since.” 

Out of high school, Vinatieri was initially recruited to kick for the Army and attended West Point for a couple weeks before ultimately deciding to attend SDSU. It wasn’t conventional to hand out scholarships to a kicker in Division II football, but former head coach Mike Daly and former defensive coordinator and current head coach of the Jackrabbit’s football team John Stiegelmeier liked Vinatieri so much they offered him a significant scholarship. 

“We were always committed through my years to a good kicking game,” Daly said. “I knew this when we signed him, he was being entertained by the service academies … but I always told him if it doesn’t work out you give me a call and in late July, early August, he gave me call … we were fortunate enough to get him.” 

Vinatieri carried himself as just another one of the guys on the team. He participated in team drills and activities separating himself from the stereotype kicker or punter many have known the position to be. He earned the respect of his teammates by putting his body on the line, not shying away from punishing the return man on a kick-off. 

“The thing I liked about him was that he was an athlete too,” Daly said. “He wasn’t a stereotype kicker or punter … he had a football player’s mentality rather than someone who had a watch on his wrist when he went out to kick.” 

Vinatieri may be a four-time Super Bowl champion, but adjusting from high school to college was as tricky for him as it is for most first-year students. 

“Going from high school to college is a transition for all of us, not at home, being on our own living in the dorm room and eating on the meal plan. It was a busy time,” Vinatieri said. “We had a lot of good guys on the team, it was a very comfortable atmosphere … it was a busy time trying to keep your grades up and playing football, some great times, a lot of good football players, good friends and enjoyed it every step of the way.” 

It wasn’t all gravy for Vinatieri at SDSU. In his junior year, Daly benched Vinatieri for a brief couple games and held team auditions for the kicking job, while Vinatieri kept his punting job to get his mind right, his replacement wasn’t getting the job done neither. Vinatieri soon returned as the regular starting kicker, overcoming a hiccup on his journey to success. 

“He had the kickers version of a golfer’s shakes,” Daly said. “We put Vinny back in and he did very well after that. You knew he had the talent, he just, was off.” 

After graduating from SDSU, the all-conference kicker Vinatieri wasn’t on the radar of many NFL clubs. Daly and former defensive line coach Trent Baalke, whom is currently the General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers hired in 2011, put together tape of the unwanted kicker. Brad Seely, former player and coach for SDSU turned down Vinatieri as the special teams coach for the Carolina Panthers and would ironically go on to coach him in the 1999 season in New England. 

Finding an opportunity wasn’t easy for Vinatieri, he got in touch with Brian Hansen, who at the time was punting for the New York Jets. Hansen is from Sioux Falls and introduced him to a kicking coach by the name of Doug Blevins in Virginia, who worked with Vinatieri for a handful of months. Vinatieri then went on to kick for NFL Europe on the Amsterdam Admirals in the fall of 1995 losing the losing the World Bowl III to the Frankfurt Galaxy. 

Vinatieri joined the Patriots in 1996 losing Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers led by Brett Favre. But it was Super Bowl MVP, Desmond Howard, that sealed the game for the Packers on the last scoring play of the game in the third quarter, taking Vinatieri’s kick 99-yards for a touchdown. Vinatieri would later become a vital cog in an intricate web of players on a Patriots squad with a team-first mentality and help them win three Super Bowls. Vinatieri is 4-2 overall in Super Bowl appearances – losing both games when giving up a kick-return for a touchdown. Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLIV, 92-yards on Vinatieri’s opening kickoff. 

Perhaps the most talked about kick in Vinatieri’s career came on a snowy-packed field in Foxborough, Mass. Winds were swirling and the fate of the Patriots playoff survival hindered on a 48-yard field goal attempt from the undrafted free agent out of SDSU. He made it, pushing the momentum in the Patriot’s favor which ultimately propelled them past the Pittsburgh Steelers and on to New Orleans, La. to play the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. 

Daly recalls Vinatieri’s two Super Bowl winning kicks vividly. He remembers exactly where he was the night Vinatieri made the Patriots champions of the world for the first time. Vinatieri made game winning field goals in Super Bowls’ in XXXVI and XXXVIII. 

“I remember the first time he was in the Super Bowl (XXXI), I was watching the kickoff and I was afraid he was going to miss it,” Daly said. “I can tell you exactly where I was on both of them … I remember the first one (XXXVI) when he made it, I was at home … the phone just went nuts and people started calling, it really was a cool moment.” 

After receiving the franchise tag for the second time at New England in 2005. He signed as a free agent in Indianapolis in 2006 after spending his first 10 seasons in Foxborough. He would go on with the Colts, where he has been comfortable kick and a cozy dome may have swayed him a little bit. He is in his eighth season with the Colts. 


 “I think for me, I enjoyed the 10 years in New England,” Vinatieri said. “I didn’t care to leave a great organization like New England unless I had another great organization that I could to go too. I wanted a multi-year deal, I wanted to be able to ground my feet for awhile – I have no regrets.”

The stars seemed to have aligned for the 40-year-old, only suffering two losing seasons with both the Colts and Patriots in 18 seasons and he isn’t even close to hanging up the jersey anytime soon with a youthful and talented Colts team.

“I still love this sport as much as I ever have,” Vinatieri said. “When you play for good teams the years go faster … I don’t know what it feels like to play on a team for 12 years and never make the playoffs … but I am thankful that I haven’t had that situation. Definitely the thing that keeps you coming back for more seasons is the hope to get into the playoffs.”

Although Vinatieri isn’t close to retiring as an NFL kicker, he has thought about his future after football. A little bit of broadcasting could be the kicker’s future as a part time analyst, but his passion is hunting. After introducing himself to outdoors enthusiasts, Vinatieri would like to create an outdoors show. The South Dakotan grew up hunting at a very young age. Even with a busy schedule, he still finds time for some hunting – traveling the world in the offseason doing some destination hunts.

“I am kind of keeping my options open right now,” Vinatieri said. “I am trying to position myself to hopefully if and when that time comes here in the next year or two, three, whenever I am going to be done I can hit the ground running.”

Vinatieri and the Colts will head into their bye week after spoiling Peyton Manning’s homecoming in Indianapolis beating the Denver Broncos 39-33 this past weekend.