INDIANAPOLIS — The thin air at Sports Authority Field at Mile High isn't so great at times for 51 players on each roster that travel to Denver at least 10 times a year to take on the Broncos.
But make no bones about it: the conditions are ideal for kickers and punters, as being at an altitude of 5,280 feet can, and will, help the ball travel farther — especially early in the season, when the weather is warmer.
As the Indianapolis Colts get set to travel to Denver to take on the Broncos Sunday afternoon, kicker Adam Vinatieri says punter Pat McAfee and himself "might be the only two guys happy about being in Mile High."
"I know how it affects bodies and recovery and all that stuff, but for us, the ball travels," Vinatieri said this week. "Light air means the ball, in theory, travels a little farther. We've had some pretty good experience out there with guys hitting long punts and kickoffs and field goals."
Although the conditions in Denver certainly can help kickers, making those longer attempts is a whole other story. There have been 13 made field goals that have been measured at 60 yards or longer since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and only two of them — an NFL-record 64 yarder by Matt Prater in 2013 and a 63 yarder by Jason Elam in 1998 — have been kicked in Denver.
Vinatieri says being in the thin air doesn't necessarily mean a team will automatically consider attempting longer field goals than usual. Like any other game, those decisions are based off of the range of the kicker before the game, as well as the specific game situations themselves.
"It should be maybe a little bit longer than it normally is, but (the) game kind of dictates what your opportunities and the distances of kicks are — end of half, end of game, you see guys sometimes get a long shot at one," said Vinatieri, referencing Prater's 64-yard field goal, which came as time expired at the end of the first half. "But most of the time throughout the game you have your line of demarcation. It's not that much different than it normally is anywhere else."
Vinatieri has plenty of experience kicking in Denver throughout his 21-year NFL career. Counting the playoffs, he has made 19-of-24 field goal attempts at Mile High Stadium — one of which was blocked — for a 79.2 percent clip.
Of those field goals, he is 4-of-4 from 20 to 29 yards, 8-of-10 from 30 to 39 yards, 7-of-9 from 40 to 49 yards and he missed his only kick attempt from 50-plus yards, a 53-yard try in October 2005 as a member of the New England Patriots.
The 43-year-old South Dakota State product got off to an excellent start to begin his season last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, connecting on all two of field goal and all four of his point-after-touchdown attempts.
His first attempt of the season was from 50 yards out, which might not be the chip shot or extra point attempt Vinatieri was hoping for to begin his year, but he'll take it.
Highlights from Vinatieri's 2015 season!
"Sometimes it's nice to have a couple chip shots early to get you back into the season, but you never know, you know?" Vinatieri said. "Every opportunity that you have is an opportunity to help your team put points on the board and potentially help your team win. Yeah, this year, the first one out the box was a 50 yarder before any extra points or short field goals, but glad I made it, and glad we got three on the board at that point, and we'll see where it goes from there."
With the two field goals against Detroit, Vinatieri improved his streak to 27 consecutive conversions, dating back to the 2015 season, a streak that ranks fourth in franchise history (Mike Vanderjagt made a team-record 42 straight field goals from 2002 to 2004).
Some other notes on Vinatieri's kicks from last Sunday, courtesy of Colts Public Relations:
- Vinatieri split the uprights on his first field goal attempt of the season from 50 yards. With the conversion, he moved into eighth place all-time in NFL history in field goals made from 50-plus yards.
- He added his second field goal of the day from 40 yards in the fourth quarter to cut Detroit's lead to 28-21. It was Vinatieri's 600th career field goal attempt as he became the fifth kicker in NFL history to reach that plateau.
- In the last three seasons, Vinatieri ranks as the league's most accurate kicker with a 95.0 percentage. With two field goals against the Lions, he's converted 57-of-60 kicks dating back to 2014.
So how does he do it? How does Vinatieri stay fresh each and every year and remain the most accurate kicker in the game well into his 40s?
"You just have to work hard and try to do your job and see where the season goes," he said. "I think, for me, when you've done it this long, you kind of know what to expect and how the length of the season (is), and you kind of know what you have to do to try to keep your body in shape."
He says nowadays he has to "work a little harder to keep your body fit and stay in 'feeling good'" mode, but, beyond that, hasn't treated this season differently than his 20 previous years in the league.
Vinatieri's offseasons, meanwhile, have been a little more dedicated the older he gets, however.
"I think the older you get, the less time you can take off, to be honest with you," he said. "You can get out of shape quick, and you can put on some extra pounds quicker than when your metabolism is going at a high pace when you're in your early 20s."
But don't get him wrong: Vinatieri isn't a robot by any means. He still enjoys the occasional slice of pizza and adult beverage during the offseason. But for the most part, he's making sure he's doing what he can to be the best kicker he can be from March through July so he's at his best August through February.
"I like being in this building and the facilities and working hard and watching the other guys work hard, too," Vinatieri said. "There's something about that camaraderie."