Kickers Could Be Deciding Factor

It has always been one of the great mysteries of sports - that two football teams could slug it out toe-to-toe on the gridiron and then watch a kicker walk on and decide the game. It doesn't seen fair sometimes.

You have a vision of Garo Yepremian saying "I kick a touchdown."

But if you been paying attention to the NFL playoffs the foot is definitely a part of football. The New York Jets lived by the foot against San Diego and died by the foot against Pittsburgh.

This Sunday's AFC Championship game matches two of the hottest kickers in football Adam Vinatieri of New England and Jeff Reed of Pittsburgh.

Vinatieri, 32, has a pedigree in big games - he kicked game-winning-field goals in the final seconds of Super Bowls in 2002 and 2004 and also had a pressure kick against the Oakland Raiders in a blizzard during the playoffs.

Reed after a disappointing season a year ago has made 19 consecutive field goals including the game-winner last week against the Jets.

Both are members of a fraternity so to speak and they embrace that fact.

"Before a game the other team's kicker is the first person you seek out, run across the field to shake his hand and talk, see how everyone's doing in the family and all that," Vinatieri told Sports Illustrated. "You develop a brotherhood in a sense. You are always paying attention to what the other guys are doing and what their stats are."

Reed met Vinatieri for the first time on the field before the teams played in October and Vinatieri praised Reed's leg strength and offered encouragement.

"Coming from a guy like him," Reed said. "That can't do anything but help your confidence."

Vinatieri has been in the national spotlight, but realizes the pecking order on a football team.

"Kickers don't deserve MVPs or any of that stuff," Vinatieri explained. "We're not on the field enough. But as far as our impact on winning or losing? We're as important as anyone. You may have five plays in a game, and those five plays are the difference in the outcome. At that last minute, when you have to go in, the guys who have fought all game long are expecting you to do your job."

Reed realizes what Vinatieri has accomplished and has tremendous respect for the Patriots' kicker.

"As far as one-on-one, I'm going against the best," Reed said. "He's proven himself. Once again he's going to the Pro Bowl. I can't comment enough on him. Adam is great; he's a great kicker and a great role model for me. I want to be where he is someday and I'm striving to be where he is."

It may boil down to Vinatieri and Reed on Sunday and both are aware of what is at stake.

"When a kicker's on the field, he's kind of alone on an island--especially when you're trying a kick at the end of a game," Vinatieri stated. "Nobody's watching the other 21 guys, just you. We've all felt that. We all know the sensation that on just about every play, you're either a hero or a goat."

"I don't mind if it comes down to me," Reed explained. "That's my turn to have my teammates' backs. I know they've been out there bleeding and sweating and fighting. They have my back covered the whole game."

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