Vanderjagt Answers the Call

IRVING, TX. - Kickers are a lot like relief pitchers in baseball – even the best fail once in a while, and in addition to the technical skill that goes along with the job, one of the assets most vital for success is a short memory.

Just as a relief pitcher has to be able to bounce back after serving up a game-deciding home run, so too must a kicker be able to forget a missed field goal in a crucial situation.

New Dallas kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed just such a kick last year when he missed a potential game-winning field goal in the Indianapolis Colts' season-ending playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Rather than hide from the mistake, Vanderjagt faced his gaffe head-on. The most accurate kicker in NFL history went to New York to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman, and even repeated – and made – a do-over of the field goal in the street outside the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Vanderjagt was blasted for the Late Show appearance. Media and Colts personnel claimed he was making light of the miss, that costing his team didn't bother him. Vanderjagt said that impression couldn't further from the truth.

"I wasn't making fun of the miss, that's for sure," Vanderjagt said Sunday at the Cowboys' mini-camp. "I was humble about it. I missed, and I apologized for it. Bottom line is the kick should have been made, and I didn't make it. But I definitely wasn't making fun of it."

Not long after his Letterman appearance, the Colts let the free agent Vanderjagt walk. The Cowboys, who had employed a parade of kickers last year without much success, snapped him up.

"(The Cowboys) were No. 1 on my list the whole time," he said. "Everyone knows the mystique of the Dallas Cowboys. There were a couple of cold-weather teams that were also interested, but I didn't want to do that."

The Oakville, Ontario native has the highest field goal percentage in NFL history, and likely will be asked to focus his attention on continuing that trend; the Cowboys had two kickers – Shaun Suisham and rookie Ryan Rossner – at the mini-camp, with the idea that one will emerge as the team's kickoff specialist. Vanderjagt said he doesn't mind sharing the kicking duties, although he's not sure it's entirely necessary.

"I feel like I could still kick off," he said. "I felt I could in Indianapolis, and I told Bill (Parcells) I can, if he wants me to do it here. I don't necessarily want to kick off, but I don't not want to, either. From an ego standpoint, I'd like for the organization to be able to carry one kicker and one punter, and save the other spot for something else."

Vanderjagt, who never has kicked in a game in Texas Stadium, said he is well aware of the struggles the Cowboys had in the kicking game in 2005.

"I can't go anywhere in town without being told about it," he said. "I feel the pressure, but I expect the pressure, too. Bill (Parcells) and Jerry Jones felt like they got a guy who can win some games for them, and that's what they should expect. They're never going to put more pressure on me than I put on myself.

"Bill told me he expects a lot from me. I'm at 88 percent for my career, and I told him that's what he's going to get."

Of his final kick-gone-awry with the Colts, Vanderjagt said he has gotten over the disappointment, but needs to perform to make fans forget it, too.

"I just need to get that erased," he said. "That will happen when I hit the first big one. It's got to be a big kick. I can hit 20- or 30- or 40-yarders all day, but when you're up by six points with a chance to put your team up by nine, those are big."

Even though the Colts chose to part company with Vanderjagt, he said the idea that his best days are in the past is not one based on fact.

"I'm not here because I was bad last year," he said. "I'm here because I'm the best kicker in the league, and that's not going to change. My percentage is about the same kicking inside and outside, so the perception that I'm just an ‘indoor kicker' is completely false. Just get the ball down, and I'll put it through, 88 percent of the time.

"Michael Jordan missed game-winning jump shots. Tiger Woods has missed putts – does that mean they're not the best? No. I missed a big field goal, and I faced up to it. But I'm still the best kicker in the league."

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