ANDERSON, Ind. — Gray hairs are creeping up higher on the sideburns of his 43-year-old head, but the NFL’s oldest player doesn’t sound like a guy entering his 21st season.
Adam Vinatieri has seen and done it all as a four-time Super Bowl winner, but the old man isn’t bickering about being back at Anderson University for the drudgery that is Indianapolis Colts training camp. If anything, he’s the same guy as before any other season, ready to get back to work.
“It’s good to be back working,” Vinatieri said Sunday. “Seeing everybody getting to work just means the season is upon us and that’s exciting times for all of us.
“Preseason is kind of that evil necessity. It’s good to be here. It’s good to get to work. You need the practice to get ready for the season, but we all look for that Detroit (season-opening) day. We have that circled on the calendar. It’s a long process to get us to that point and ready to go but looking forward to the regular season, for sure.”
Vinatieri has always said his body would tell him when it’s time to call it a career, one that should inevitably take him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. While he needs more time to recover from workouts, his body told him to keep playing. His family, and in particular his three children, told him to keep playing.
So the ageless one convinced the Colts to spend $6 million to keep him around for two more years.
“It’s been fun,” he said during offseason training activities. “It’s a pleasure and a joy just to come back another year. I never take ‘em for granted. I pinch myself to think I’ve been in this for so long.”
Vinatieri still has a strong enough right leg to hit field goals from as far out as 58 to 60 yards, on a good day. Last season, he made four-of-five from 50 yards or more.
He’s missed just three field goals in the past two seasons, converting 55-of-58. His career field goal percentage of 84.1 ranks just 15th on the all-time list, but lest anyone forget, “Mr. Clutch” is considered the greatest pressure kicker in the game history with two Super Bowl-winning kicks while playing for the New England Patriots.
His list of other career achievements — too many to mention in one paragraph let alone one story — include 26 game-winning field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. He’s the NFL’s third-leading scorer with 2,253 career points. He’s been selected to three Pro Bowls and named to the Associated Press All-Pro first team three times. In perhaps another indication of what’s to come down the road, he was the only unanimous selection to the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team, chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board.
Vinatieri has set regular-season and playoff records for the Colts and Patriots franchises (the only player to have 1,000 pointers for two different teams) as well as the league, including most career points scoring in postseason history (234) and most career field goals made in the playoffs (56). He’s made 503-of-598 field goals in the regular season.
That said, Vinatieri reminds he didn’t last this long by just expecting the same result. He continues to work hard and doesn’t given into the temptation to be complacent.
“It would be easy to feel that way. I guess for me, complacency is one of those things that, (while) we might not have another kicker in camp, but there are 1,000 guys out there waiting for me to screw up,” he said Sunday. “I feel pressure or I feel the need to compete every single day no matter if there is another kicker in camp or not.
“I know the expectation levels and I won’t allow myself to get complacent or to take time off thinking, ‘Oh, there’s not another kicker in camp.’ Because it’s very easy for them to bring somebody in yet today.”
When Vinatieri began last season by missing his first two field goal attempts, the backlash from fans on social media was all too familiar: “He’s too old!” Vinatieri realizes he’s always one miss away from critics saying he’s washed up and should hang it up. One old adage about the position suggests a kicker is only as good as his last kick.
The secrets to success and surviving two decades has Vinatieri consulting with a nutritionist to ensure his weight doesn’t fluctuate. The little guy lifts weights to maintain strength, but it’s important not to do too much. How he takes care of his body in August will set him up for when the season begins against the Lions on Sept. 11 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“There’s not like stepping out on the field in front of your fans and playing a game,” he said during OTAs. “I can tell, obviously, I’m getting older and grayer and all that stuff, but it’s as much fun stepping out there today as it was 20 years ago.
“The day that it’s no fun is maybe the day it will be done, but I still love it today as much as I ever have.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.