Vinatieri has completed 16 professional seasons. He has not just played in 16 seasons, he has done so in distinguished fashion.
The 39-year old kicker has been on the active roster of four winning Super Bowl teams. Thirty players can stake that claim, while only one player has exceeded that total. Vinatieri decided two Super Bowls with field goals in the final seconds. Perhaps his most dramatic effort was a 45-yard kick in the snow in the 2001 Divisional Playoffs in the final seconds to force overtime. His effort propelled New England onward, and the club won Super Bowl XXXVI when Vinatieri nailed a 48-yard boot at the gun.
He has played in 243 career games, a total that ties for 45th-most in a league where more than 21,000 players have competed over 92 seasons. Vinatieri opened his career with 13 consecutive seasons with 100 points, and he ranks eighth in league history with 387 field goals and ninth with 1,752 points. He has 23 game-winning field goals in the final minute or overtime of regular season games, and he (45-54) owns the NFL post-season marks for field goals, attempts, points (187), consecutive games scoring (24) and most points in one playoff season (49, 2006).
The key to his success is work, and it is something that is done 12 months a year. Vinatieri is knee-deep already in preparing for 2012.
“For me, it’s always about maintaining strength. You want to stay strong. You want to stay flexible,” said Vinatieri. “I like to work on little things that I saw throughout the course of the season. I go back and watch all my kicks and see things. I will see things and say, ‘That is something I can work on.’ That is what I do. There are things to tweak. The main goal, though, is to condition so you can go into the next season as healthy as possible. You always have to condition, whether you’re a rookie or a veteran. Flexibility is something you do. You want to be comfortable, and you want to have your body ready for a long season ahead.”
Vinatieri connected on 23-of-27 field goals and all 24 placement attempts for 93 points in 2011, a season where the Colts struggled. The veteran performer graded himself with a critical eye.
“It was a good year, not great. Unless you go perfect, unless you go a whole season and don’t miss a kick, there is room for improvement,” said Vinatieri. “You have to think that way. It was a good, solid year.
“Unfortunately, I did not get as many attempts as I have in past seasons, or that I would have liked to have had. I wish there had been more times when I was on the field and could have made a bigger impact, but that’s not how it went.”
Indianapolis entered last season having topped 400 points in 10 of the previous 13 seasons. The club had only 243 points in 2011, while laboring to take positive steps. Despite a long losing streak to start the year, players kept their integrity intact while seeking to break through. Vinatieri noted the professionalism in a rough season.
“It was a tough year. There weren’t many ups, and there were too many downs, unfortunately,” said Vinatieri. “The great thing was with the team you saw a lot of character. There was never any give up or letdown with the players. We fought to the end through every game of the season. It was not successful by our standards, but you could see character with our guys.”
Vinatieri has made field goals of 50 yards or longer in nine different seasons, including 52- and 53-yarders in 2011. He was successful on 10-of-13 attempts beyond 40 yards last year and feels his strength is on par with earlier career seasons.
“I said in the past that length was not an issue, that it is a matter of putting the ball between the uprights. I still feel that way,” said Vinatieri. “I felt strong and healthy last year. Every year, you’re a year older, obviously, but I don’t think I’ve lost anything.
“Early last season, I had a season-long 53-yarder, and I had another from that range. I don’t think length is an issue, especially when you’re playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. The ball travels pretty good in there. You don’t mind kicking there at all.”
The physical aspect of the game is but one component. For players of Vinatieri’s ilk, there is a strong mental approach as well. Though he is battle-tested, he takes the mental approach very seriously.
“You never have the mental part of your game solved. You do build on past experiences,” said Vinatieri. “I’m sure I haven’t seen everything, but I have seen an awful lot that this game can throw at you as far as situations and circumstances. It doesn’t guarantee you that you can build off past success, but you do keep an eye on things you have gone through. I always try to practice in the off-season like it’s game week or game day. That way when you get into those situations, you have some sort of comfort level with it. Hopefully, your off-season work helps. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll make every kick, but you have to approach the off-season with a purpose. It can give you more of a peace of mind.”
“Those are two very, very professional guys. Justin Snow has been in the league a long time, and he knows what to do to be successful. You never worry about him,” said Vinatieri. “He’s one of the longest-tenured snappers around. Pat McAfee is an exceptional punter. He’s a very talented guy, and he is a very driven guy. He wants to be the best he can be, the best at his position. He wants to be the best ever, and that’s great. That will help him be successful for a long time. Last year we faced a lot of good returners, and Pat had to put the ball high and try to position it in certain areas. He will tell you he needs to get better, but he did a good job last year. You can’t say enough about his kickoffs either. He is a very big field-position guy for us. It is a very big part of the game.
“I’m the oldest guy, Justin is not far behind me and Pat’s a young guy. It’s a fun group of guys who are very serious about their jobs.”