Being an NFL kicker sucks. Unless you’re Adam Vinatieri. No other kicker has won as many Super Bowls as the four-time champ, who spit his share of daggers (kicked his share of clutch field goals) with the New England Patriots for a decade before getting it in for the past nine seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
Without Vinatieri, the personal legacies of future Hall of Fame QBs Peyton Manning and Tom Brady could be completely different. Brady’s NFL rap sheet might read more like snake-bitten Jim Kelly’s if not for the football Gods annointing Vinatieri as the Michael Jordan of kickers.
He was no Robert Horry. His regular season shuffle is as sick as his postseason kicking-prowess. The games just don’t mean as much in October as they do in January and he earned his ultimate rep by shining under the lights of big-stakes, high-pressure NFL football.
In Super Bowl XXXVI Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play to give the New England Patriots their first Super Bowl victory, a 20–17 win over the heavily-favored St. Louis Rams (“Greatest Show on Turf”).
Two years later, and in an almost identical situation, he kicked a 41-yard field goal with four seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII to boost the Patriots to another championship (after missing one field goal and having another attempt blocked in the first half).
Immediately after signing with the Colts in ‘06, he helped Manning get that elusive ring. In the second round of the 2006 AFC playoffs, Vinatieri kicked a playoff record-tying five field goals in the Colts' 15–6 upset of the Baltimore Ravens, before nailing 3-of-4 field goals in a 29-17 Colts victory over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
Without Vinatieri’s high-pressure conquests, Manning could be this generation’s Dan Marino—a Top 5 all-time QB with no Super Bowl rings and therefore no claim to the “best-ever” title.
Vinatieri’s not always perfect, but he’s the Ja rule-Ashanti of the NFL, always on time and usually among the NFL scoring leaders.
Is Vinatieri the most talented kicker in NFL history? Maybe not. He did bag another Pro Bowl and hit on 30-of-31 field goals in the 2014 regular season, but I’m sure kicking icons like Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen have something to say about that. Together, they hold just about every kicking record known to man. Andersen is expected to eventually become the second fulltime place-kicker to go lampin’ in Canton. Jan Stenerud was elected in 1991.
The fact that there’s only one kicker in the HOF and in 2014 Ray Guy became the first punter elected tells you all you need to know about how feebly kickers are valued in this game. Kickers are the condoms of the NFL. So vital to the success of the team, but the only time you acknowledge their importance is when they bust open and fail you during intercourse.
Gary Anderson is just as potent a kicker (and some experts say more clutch) but his career has a playoff blemish that Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Dennis Green and the Super Bowl-seeking state of Minnesota can’t forgive. His current situation is a prime example of the twisted irony and inevitably-doomed fate of most NFL place kickers.
Anderson had the first-ever perfect season for a place kicker with the Vikings in 1998. He was money in the bank and holding down G.O.A.T status until he missed his only kick of the season—a 38-yarder in the NFC Championship game with time expiring and Super Bowl-favorite Minnesota lost to Hollywood Jamal Anderson and the Atlanta Falcons, 30-27. The missed kick not only ruined a 15-1 season for the Vikings, but it tainted Anderson’s legacy.
Undisputable is the fact that Vinatieri made the most of his opportunities. Imagine if he made two first-half field goals and missed the game-winner?
His name would be dirt. Instead, he’s the Babe Ruth of big-stage kicking. If you hit a walk-off homer in the bottom fo the ninth, nobody remembers the three times you struck out earlier in the game. and on January 11, 2014 against the Patriots in the Divisional Playoff round, Vinatieri became the first player in NFL history to convert 50 field goals in the postseason.
He beat the odds. It’s really a dirty game that kicking gig. It’s like you’re working a drug corner down in B-More for a Kingpin back in the ‘80s and you’re scraping and working the front line just to get by.
Then right before the Feds show up, the team hands you 80 bricks – the whole works—and you’re either going to get bagged with it or your gonna skip town, flip it and make everybody rich.
It’s a job only an abandoned child with parental issues would want. Living on the edge and teetering a dangerously thin line between most beloved (but the love never lasts that long) and most hated.
The Usual Suspects
The Super Bowl XLIX matchup between New England and Seattle has all the makings of a classic. The two squads are both battle-tested bullies with “it-factor” players on both sides of the ball. The head coaches are more evenly-matched than most commercial fans will admit. There’s an abundance of talent, enthralling personalities and underlying stories in this Super Bowl:
Beast Mode eats Skittles, doesn’t eff with the press and piledrives sucker MC defenders.
Richard Sherman is the articulately-obnoxious and misunderstood, dread-dripping-intellectual via The Ivy League of The West.
Darrelle Revis settles this best cornerback mess once and for all.
Russell Wilson chases Brady and Montana into the record books.
However, despite all of that intrigue, there is a strong chance that the game’s outcome will be decided by a kicker. That means get familiar with Pats leg-lifter Stephen Gostkowski and the Seahawks Steven Hauschka.
Gostkowski earned a second-team All-Pro nod this season and banged down 35-of-37 field goals in 2014. His leg can stroke em’ from anywhere in the stadium and he’s not missed an extra point since his rookie season of '06.
Seattle’s Hauschka has struggled a bit more in the regular season with an 83.8 percent conversion rate on field goals. However, he transforms into the World Series version of Madison Bumgarner during the NFL playoffs where Hauschka is a sizzling 12-for-12 on field goals and 16-for-16 on extra points for his career.
"The hardest part of kicking is waiting around and not knowing when you're going to kick," Gostkowski recently told SI.
That uncertainty can assassinate a kickers edge. Anxiety, pressure and lack of preparation often leads to kickers missing potential game-winning field goals at every level of competition. Kicking with money on the table is one of the loneliest, most pressure-filled, thankless positions in all of sports. Similar to a soccer goalie in sudden death—the weight of the world is on the kickers’ shoulders when it comes to potential game-winning field goals in the Super Bowl.
Every kicker wants to be Vinatieri. Not only because he has that incomparable clutch gene, but as far as kicking NFL field goals go, if you’re not him, then you are somebody like former Bills kicker Scott Norwood.
In Super Bowl XXV, Norwood had one of the most infamous Super Bowl fails of all-time when he missed a tough 47-yarder that would've won the Bills the title. The dubious outcome was a 20-19 heartbreaking loss to the NY Giants.
Instead of setting off what could have been a dynasty (because if Norwood hits that field goal who knows how many more Super Bowl victories that momentum brings them) as fate would have it they also lost the next three Super Bowls against Washington, and Dallas (back-to-back) by a combined score of 119-54.
Of those four consecutive Super Bowl losses, that first one was the game that the Bills should have won. Every year the team doesn’t win, that loss becomes more unbearable and Norwood more hated.
In music terms, Norwood is a rapper who sold out and can’t even go back to his own hood without getting sparked on. Mr. “Wide Right,” as he was crowned by sportscaster Al Michaels on that fateful Jan. 27th day in 1991, has a lasting legacy synonymous with Super Bowl failure.
That missed field goal represents the overall disappointing fate of the Bills and set in motion a half century of frustration only known to those that have endured Chinese water torture..oh yeah, and the horse who chased the carrot to no avail.
Almost a quarter-century later you’re about as likely to find Norwood on the streets of Buffalo as you are to find Bill Buckner kicking it in Cambridge with Red Sox fans watching a Mets game.
Some kickers play 15 years in the NFL and you never notice. Why?
Because when a kicker does his job under the lights at night, most people forget the guy’s name by breakfast. Employed anonymity is every kicker’s dream. I doubt most of them ever want to have to kick for championship contenders. There’s little benefit.
It’s almost unfair for that much pressure to rest on one puny player. A guy who’s generally an afterthought in the locker room and among media machines.
A kicker’s story writes itself. There’s no need for embellishment or hyper-critical analysis. They either hit or miss and their worth will be judged and re-adjusted and reevaluated with every kick.
A kicker never has to wonder what the HC or team or fans think of him because usually it’s not much.
Except at those unpredictable and crucial moments when a kicker’s performance affects the lives, legacies, cash flow and families of every other player on that roster, as well as the pride, memories and moods of every diehard fan.
Then for a brief moment he becomes the most important player on the field.