The Making of Adam Vinatieri

Posted Dec 28, 2017

At 45 years old, Adam Vinatieri reflects back on his early years, his childhood struggles, the people who supported him and helped shape him into the man he is today – one of the great kickers in NFL history – and poised to become the greatest.

Yankton, South Dakota is a small town across the Missouri River from Nebraska. It’s where life began for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. But he wasn’t there for long.

“My dad was in the military. We got stationed in Germany for a couple years. By the time I was two or three years old, I was back in South Dakota. My dad took a job in Rapid City on the other side of the state.”

Rapid City is Adam Vinatieri’s hometown. It’s the place he grew up and the place his parents still call home.

The second of four children, he has a younger sister, Christine, and a younger brother, Beau. But it was his older brother, Chad, who set the bar – and Adam spent his formative years challenging him to raise it.

“I had an older brother I competed with every day of my life, trying to be as good as him,” he says. “So when he’s almost three years older than you, when you’re three – he’s six and when you’re 10 – he’s 13, and on and on and on. He was always bigger, faster, and stronger than me. But I was always trying to beat him at everything. And I think that ultimately helped me be a lot more competitive in life.”

That competitive spirit served him well early on.

“I hit my crossroads in life when I was a young, young boy,” he says. “A lot of people hit a crossroads when they’re in their 20s or 30s or 50s. For me, it was when I was in second grade.”

Diagnosed with a learning disability in elementary school, he had trouble reading and spelling.

“It gave me a very easy, ‘You’re dumb. You’re not going to be able to do this.’ You’ve got an excuse now to be average or below average.”

He credits his family and a teacher, Marcy Farrand at Wilson Elementary, for helping him turn a wall into a window to the world.

“They said, ‘Hey, you’re going to go to this other classroom and we’re going to give you a little more one-on-one help.’”

He took the help, channeled his will, and found a way.

“I was so damn competitive that I was like, ‘I’m not going to let this slow me down. Not only am I not going to be in this class very long, I’m going to get the best grades out of anybody. I’m going to have to work three times harder and I’m going to have to study longer.’”

That’s what he did. And he graduated at the top of his class.

“I finished with a 4.1 GPA because I had a couple of advanced placement classes,” he says. “I learned how to work hard and study at a young age because I had to – which I think in the long run, served me very well.”

So well, in fact, his backup plan was going to medical school.

“I wanted to be a surgeon. I knew it was going to be a hard road, but I came to find out at an early age, if you’ve got the determination and the drive and the will to do something…”

You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

With the academics to go anywhere, athletics was ultimately his calling.

“I could have played soccer at a smaller school. I was pretty good at baseball and wrestling too,” he says.

But colleges started calling about football. And that made his decision pretty easy.

“I think at the end of the day, with the love of the sport and potential scholarships, it was, ‘Heck, yeah. Let’s do this.’”

He landed at South Dakota State University in Brookings, about six hours east of Rapid City.

“It was good. It was close enough that if you had vacations, you’d come home. But I wasn’t home all the time. It gave me the freedoms I needed as a young man to figure out who the heck I was.”

And he quickly found himself – as the starting kicker for the Jackrabbits.

“My freshman year, I started kicking and I also beat out the punter as well. So, I became the kicker and the punter and that was plenty on my plate at that point.”

He made All Conference his freshman year. After his senior year, he spent time fine-tuning his skills, went to NFL Europe to play for the Amsterdam Admirals for a season, and was signed by the New England Patriots.

Lucky for the Colts, they let him go after 10 seasons – and with a lot of football left to play.

“I never thought I’d get two decades plus of football, 45 years old and still going at it. It sounds cliché, but I just try to take it one year at a time.”

And his competitive nature still drives him.

“There’s been plenty of young guys who’ve come in and kicked against me and I don’t give up very easily. I think the competitive side of it keeps me staying in shape and trying to eat the right stuff and doing the right things.”

He still loves it. But playing in the National Football League at 45 years old has its challenges.

“I’m not going to lie to you. The body feels different and there are days that you wake up and you go, ‘Ahhh!’ But, it’s part of the deal. If you want to be great, you’ve got to work hard.”

It’s a lesson Adam Vinatieri learned early in life – and it’s carried him throughout his career.

This season, he passed Gary Anderson for number two all time in NFL points. And with Morten Anderson’s record within reach, he plans to play again next season.

He knows it won’t last forever.

“You play long enough and they tell you it’s time at some point.”

When the time comes, don’t expect a tearful goodbye from Adam Vinatieri. He’ll likely go down as the greatest kicker in NFL history. But when it’s over?

“I’m going to bow out gracefully,” he says. “I’m just going to disappear some offseason and they’re going to be like, ‘He’s not coming back again?’”

Thankfully, we’ll know where to find him five years later – at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Asked about the biggest influences in his life, Vinatieri doesn’t hesitate.

“My parents,” he says. “I never wanted for anything. We weren’t wealthy by any means. I didn’t get a new pair of kicking shoes every year, but they were always there supporting. My dad was my coach in a lot of things. I always had the love and the support – not just by them, but from family members and coaches and teachers that cared about me.”

And they’ll be front and center cheering him on.

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