Ageless Adam Vinatieri defines excellence

Colts' 41-year-old 'Mr. Clutch' hasn't missed a field goal in 20 kicks this season entering Sunday night's home game against the team that let him go after 2005, the New England Patriots.

Adam Vinatieri is perfect.

And it’s OK to mention how the Indianapolis Colts kicker hasn’t missed a field goal in 20 attempts this season, and 26 in a row dating back to last season.

The NFL’s oldest player doesn’t believe in jinxes.

One month from his 42nd birthday, he believes in the basics: preparation, hard work, eating healthy, taking care of the body in the training room, getting plenty of sleep and keeping the big-picture perspective simple.

Holder Pat McAfee calls him “The Legend” and joked before Halloween that Vinatieri’s costume would be that of “a future Hall of Famer.” But mention the subject of one day having his bronze bust in Canton, Ohio, and expect a short answer. He doesn’t lose any sleep thinking about that. He’s just thinking about the next game and making the most of every kick.

“I look at it as every time I step on the field,” Vinatieri said, “I need to help my team.”

He’s in his ninth season with the Colts and is signed through 2015 to make it an even decade. He spent his first decade with the New England Patriots, with whom he won three of his four Super Bowl rings including two on last-second field goals. That’s why he’s often referred to as “Mr. Clutch” or “The greatest clutch kicker in NFL history.”

The Patriots decided to move on after 2005, and they’ve done that before with veterans, opting not to pay older players and letting them go maybe a year or two before they were finished. But who could have foreseen Vinatieri would last this long? He wasn’t washed up, not by a long shot.

His old coach, Bill Belichick, wondered aloud Tuesday if Vinatieri will ever retire.

“The way he’s kicking now,” the Patriots coach said, “I don’t see where the end in sight is.”

The Patriots coming to Indianapolis Sunday night has meant a lot of reporters around Vinatieri’s locker. He knows the routine. What you won’t hear, and have never heard, is a kicker with a gripe about how his old team decided he was too old about a decade ago.

Try to broach that subject and his standard response is to explain how blessed he has been to be a part of two great franchises and to play with so many great players. Who else has framed autographed jerseys of quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at home? And before he retires, if he ever does, he’ll be sure to add an Andrew Luck to his special autograph collection.

Ask him about Belichick and Vinatieri is dignified, of course.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” he said. “I think he’s a great coach. As far as me, I take it one day at a time. I just try to help my team win the best I can. I feel good so far, we’ll see how far it goes.”

Belichick wasn’t interested in reliving ancient history when asked about the decision to let Vinatieri become a free agent.

“Look, I’ve always had a good relationship with Adam,” Belichick said. “The NFL is a business. I’m not trying to write a story for you here, but this isn’t news. There’s free agency every year. Players change teams. We get them. Other guys get our guys.”

The Colts couldn’t be happier to have him, thank you very much. Vinatieri’s 26-kick streak is the third-longest in franchise history. Two more without a miss and he ties Mike Vanderjagt for second. Vanderjagt, who owns the record at 42, is the guy Vinatieri replaced in Indianapolis.

While Vanderjagt is tied for third on the NFL all-time list for field goal accuracy at 86.5 percent, and Vinatieri is 14th at 83.6 percent, the most important distinction are two playoff field goals. Vanderjagt missed them both, including one at Miami that would have won the game, whereas Vinatieri nailed his to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Vinatieri has hit 24 game-winning field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. He’s the NFL’s active scoring leader with 2,098 points and the only player to score more than 900 points with two different teams.

More records will fall, he seems to set them every time he plays. But all that matters to him is making the next kick. Watch him warm-up at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night, and he’s still got the leg from 55 yards out.

“We love it here,” Vinatieri said of Indianapolis. “I bleed blue and it’s Colt blue now. I love the fact that this locker room is ready to go and it’s going to be a fun game. I’m sure our crowd will be nice and loud and making it tough on them. I expect good stuff from us.”

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano always expects good stuff from him, too.

“When you’ve been doing it for as long as he’s done it and been as successful as Adam’s been, his work ethic is obviously impeccable,” Pagano said Wednesday. “He’s a pro’s pro. He works extremely hard at his craft and his confidence is obviously through the roof. I don’t think there’s a time he’s ever trotted out on the field in the last decade or so where he felt like he wasn’t going to make the kick.

“I think (for) everybody that’s had the opportunity, including myself, it’s a privilege and an honor to be able to just watch this guy perform and to be his coach. It’s really remarkable to go as long as he’s gone.”

Pagano joked with second-year outside linebacker Bjoern Werner at a meeting this week that it was “Vinny’s 7,563rd Wednesday that he’s been involved in.” The coach then admitted he didn’t know if that number was even close.

“I think we all get fired up,” Vinatieri said of facing the Patriots again. “We all have reasons (for) why we enjoy playing those guys. It will be extra special for me.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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