Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri will set an NFL record Sunday when he plays in his 30th career playoff game. “Mr. Clutch” won three of his four Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots (1996 to 2005). The NFL’s oldest player at 42 has been with the Colts since 2006. He’s an ideal interview before another Colts-Patriots AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Vinatieri chatted with Phillip B. Wilson on Friday.
Phil B: Are you the least bit sentimental about going back there or is it just business as usual?
Adam: It’s been a long time, obviously. Years have gone by now. Teams have changed, teams have evolved and all of that stuff. Obviously, every time I go back and play there, it’s a special occasion for me. There’s great memories. I’ve got a lot of love and respect for that organization clearly, but I’ll enjoy that for about 10 minutes and then I’ll get to work and it will be business as usual at that point. It’s one of those situations where it’s too big of a game to be thinking about anything else.
Phil B: I didn’t think you would. Maybe for a moment, a thought or a memory, but then you would shuffle along.
Adam: Yeah, I’ve had non-football friends who live out there say, ‘Hey, let’s go get dinner,’ and I’ve shot everybody down. I said, ‘I’d love to see ya. I haven’t seen you in a while, but I’ll see ya some other time because this is strictly a business trip. The only thing that’s going to be on my mind is football.’
Phil B: It blows my mind, here we are, after all this, still Colts-Patriots. Even when you were over there, it was Colts-Patriots. It’s the rivalry in the AFC.
Adam: There’s great teams in the National Football League. And there’s a handful of teams that are successful year in and year out. When you talk about dynasties and teams that have done stuff, obviously you think about Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Packers and then are teams like Seattle now. In the last decade or two, there’s been a lot of Patriots and Colts and this is another one of those things. It’s another notch in dynasties.
Phil B: Maybe afterward you will look at it as fun, but you’re so focused and serious during a game, you can’t look at it like that. I talked to Cory Redding the other day if this is what you live for, and he said, ‘No question.’
Adam: There’s an amped up level of excitement and emotion and stress level because the stakes are higher. As the game goes on, you don’t sit there and relish how much fun this is. You reflect on it afterward and say, ‘Man, that was fun.’ I don’t think you allow yourself a lot of time to get caught up in the excitement. It’s work, work, work. Then you can reflect afterward and say, ‘Man, that was cool. That was awesome. This is what we do it for.
Phil B: Dating back to when I met you, when you were with the Patriots and Bill Belichick gave you the ultimate compliment by calling you ‘a football player,’ I always said when I walked out of Gillette Stadium after losses that that would be the ultimate win. I know everybody talks Super Bowl, and beating the Patriots here in the AFC Championship Game was big, but the ultimate win to show something would be to beat the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., at ‘The Razor’ in January. What could be more perfect than Adam Vinatieri kicking a game-winning field goal?
Adam: I think you prepare yourself for that every week. For me, personally, I assume I’m going to be on the field a bunch every game. And I prepare like we have to. Everybody. We all do. If you’re a practice squad player, you prepare like you’re going to start this week. There might be an injury, there might be this or that. For me, I sit there and I think I’m going to be not the field 10 times and maybe it is a game winner at the end, so you get your mind set around that. Whatever the situation, you prepare like you’re going to be very, very busy and get your mind right and then the game just plays out. And it never plays out like you exactly anticipate, but I’ve dreamt that a few times. (Smiles.)
Phil B: In interviewed Jim ‘Lassie’ O’Brien, who kicked the game-winning field goal for the Baltimore Colts against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. When he was in high school, he would end his practice imagining the field goal was to win a game in college. When he was in college, he ended practices by imaging the field goal would win a game in the NFL. And in the NFL, the field goal would win a Super Bowl. When it happened, he said he just kicked the ball like he had practiced all those years. Is that part of your practice routine?
Adam: I get very upset about wasting kicks or wasting practice time. I don’t ever go out without a purpose. I don’t necessarily say, ‘This is a game winner.’ I feel like every single time you step on the field, it’s a potential game-winning situation. You don’t know how the game is going to end. There’s games that end 21-20. That extra point that you kicked in the second quarter maybe is the difference. Every single time I step on the field to kick, I take it real serious in the sense that there’s never a wasted ‘rep’ ever. It is always, hey, every time I step on the field, I’m expected to put points on the board to help our team, increase our lead, win a game, whatever the situation may be. For me, I don’t care if it’s the first quarter or with two seconds left on the clock, it’s serious business every single time I step out there.
Phil B: Do you have any barometer for range based on, what’s it supposed to be, 40 degrees and …
Adam: Forty and raining, right?
Phil B: Yeah. You test that out in warm-ups, I know
Adam: Every single time that you play outside, I don’t think you can ever have a guarantee of, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be.’
Phil B: So you want me to pay attention to you in warm-ups?
Adam: I know I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to me in warm-ups to know exactly what my range is. Obviously the colder it gets, the ball doesn’t fly quite as far. You throw some precipitation in there, you never know. Foxborough notoriously has a 10-mph wind or more every single time you play there.
Phil B: In the open end?
Adam: You never know. Early in the year, it’s coming out of the South. Late in the year, this time of year, January, it’s coming from the North normally, which is the open side. Not a 100 percent guarantee, so that’s why we’re going to go out there, I’ll walk the field and kick a bunch of balls beforehand so I can kind of be, ‘OK, this is what I’m thinking.’ Coach and I will have a good communication on what we think our range is. And then you sometimes have that opportunity, end end of half, end of game, certain situations where you push the envelope a little bit and maybe go a little bit further outside the comfort zone. But like I said, every time you step on the field, it’s business, it’s ‘We need this one,’ it’s ‘We need to put this one through.’
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.