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Adam Vinatieri closing in on career kicking marks but not close to done

Indianapolis Colts place kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) reacts to missing a field goal against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

INDIANAPOLIS — Adam Vinatieri will do this year what he has done for the past 21 seasons: Jam his size 10 1/2 foot into an 8 1/2 kicking shoe and keep making field goals at a shocking rate. Kicking is hard, repetitive and spartan work, and yet Vinatieri doesn’t appear to be growing weary of it — even the bizarre foot-binding routine.

In fact, he’s only gotten better at his job.

“I stop wearing tight shoes for about two months after the season is over, let ’em air out a bit,” Vinatieri told FanRag Sports at training camp this week, “and then I strap it back on again when the season starts again. Back to work…”

The past four seasons, he has converted an almost unfathomable 117 of 129 field goal attempts (90.7 percent) — bettered only by the man who replaced him in New England, Stephen Gostkowski, among full-season kickers over that stretch. That is more than eight percent better than his career mark up to that point.

Oh, by the way, Vinatieri also made an NFL-record 44 straight tries, a streak that ended last November, and hit 18 of 23 attempts of 50 yards or longer the past four seasons. This is all absurd, even in kicking’s gilded age.

What makes it wilder, of course, is that Vinatieri has done it all after turning 40. He turns 45 before the Indianapolis Colts’ Week 17 game against the Houston Texans. As far as Vinatieri is concerned, he’s not yet viewing that day as his final hurrah.

“I still feel like I have a few more chapters left in my story,” Vinatieri said, smiling at the same question he faces on a nearly daily rate these days.

Forget that you can play the Kevin Bacon game with Vinatieri and go back to the dawn of the NFL quite easily. Put aside the thought that one of his teammates, rookie running back Marlon Mack, was less than two months old when the Patriots signed the undrafted Vinatieri out of South Dakota State. He’s playing a young man’s game and refusing to act his age while doing so.

In Week 1, the Colts travel to face the Los Angeles Rams, which will tack another notch onto his career — the L.A. Coliseum will be the 45th NFL stadium in which Vinatieri has kicked. Three weeks later, CenturyLink Field will make it 46. (Amazingly, in an odd scheduling quirk, Vinatieri has never kicked in Seattle before.) If you count preseason and Pro Bowl games, the number will be 49.

Indianapolis Colts placekicker Adam Vinatieri (4) boots a field goal front he hold of punter Pat McAfee (1) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Indianapolis, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

If you’re into mind-bending NFL statistics: If Vinatieri kicks in all 16 games this season — something he has done in 18 of his 21 seasons — he will have played only nine fewer regular season games than the Green Bay Packers have played at Lambeau Field in their history.

It’s all too much for Vinatieri, who is approaching some of the league’s all-time kicking marks, to comprehend sometimes.

“It’s awesome to hear all those numbers, and to do things only a few players have done and all that,” he said. “It’s always a team game, and my best memories and most cherished accomplishments are always the team ones, the Super Bowls, of course.

“But it is a little crazy when people tell me some of the numbers. You just told me a few, and it seems like everyone I talk to has a new one I haven’t heard before. I guess that’s what happens when you play a long time. You just make your way up a few individual lists.”

If the Colts and Chargers finish in the same place in their respective divisions, Vinatieri could hit the half-century mark on stadiums next season — and based on his “more chapters” comment, you’d have to think he’ll at least give himself the chances.

Another more difficult way to get to 50 would be Vinatieri making Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a year and a half. He’d be 46 years old on Sunday, February 3, 2019 — that would make Vinatieri more than four years older than the oldest Super Bowl participant, Matt Stover, the same man who replaced an injured Vinatieri in the Colts’ Super Bowl XLIV loss to the New Orleans Saints… in 2010.

Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Vinatieri is in his contract season this year. It’s possible the Colts might not re-sign him, or he might go the hired-gun route and try to latch on with another contender beyond this season. It’s wild to think that he has kicked for only two teams, yes, but maybe wilder perhaps that he’s now played more regular season games for the Colts (162) than he did with the Patriots (160).

“My routine these days is that I let my body rest in the offseason and I talk to my family, see how I feel as time passes, and by a certain point I just know,” he said.

The family keeps him busy in the offseason, too, which he joked was part of his training regimen — shuffling between his son’s baseball games and his daughter’s horse riding events. But there’s always a little bit of time for dad to recalibrate and ask himself whether he has another year in him.

“They love it, my kids and wife,” he said. “And they’ve been incredibly supportive to just let me keep pursuing this dream. That’s what I’ll do after this season, but I don’t see why I can’t keep going.”

Vinatieri missed Morten Andersen’s recent Pro Football Hall Of Fame induction speech live, but he went back and watched clips of it later. He thought about how Andersen was headlong into the 2.0 phase of his brilliant career when Vinatieri entered the league in 1996 and yet lasted an incredible 11 years beyond that, all the way to the age of 47.

Entering the season, Vinatieri needs eight field goals to pass Gary Anderson for second place all time in that category, but he needs a whopping 36 — more than he’s made in all but two of his seasons — to take over Andersen, who sits atop the list with 536 made.

Indianapolis Colts place kicker Adam Vinatieri reacts after missing a 55-yard field goal attempt during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston TexansSunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Andersen was a “rock star,” Vinateri said, and it’s not his “ultimate goal” to surpass him. But if he happens to…

“It would be an incredible honor, for sure,” Vinatieri said. “I’m not downplaying that. I’ve definitely followed his career.”

Did Andersen perhaps reopen the door to Canton, which admitted only its second kicker over the past 26 years?

“I hope so, and honestly, I believe there are a number of guys who belong in there,” Vinatieri said. “Gary Anderson, Jason Hansen, Jason Elam… all those guys. The position might not be valued the same as others, but there are clearly some guys who deserve that consideration.”

If Vinatieri makes it there one day, he likely already has done enough for induction — the longevity, the accuracy, the three kicks that provided the winning margins for the Patriots’ first three Super Bowls. There are no kicking resumés that read like Vinatieri’s.

Yet he sees room for improvement. The detail-oriented perfectionist is always seeking that edge not just to maintain his level of excellence, but to surpass it. If anything, he spends more time thinking about his daily regimen, given that he’s lost “just a bit” of the sheer power and length he said he had when he entered the league all those years ago.

“You always have to watch your form and see if there are variations,” he said. “You have to make sure you adjust your schedule as you get older. I used to be able to bang 100 kicks one day and be fine the next. That doesn’t fly anymore. So you’re constantly tweaking little things, even if they’re not evident to the naked eye of people watching, just to make sure you’re on top of things.”

Want to play 20-plus years in the NFL? This is what it takes. By the sound of it, Vinatieri won’t be giving up this routine anytime soon.

“God willing, we’ll see where and how long this thing goes on for,” he said. “It’s still a blast doing this for a living.”

– Eric Edholm is an NFL writer for Pro Football Weekly.

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