Playing in the NFL was a dream come true for Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
But when he became a father, that became his most important job.
“I had my kids a little bit later in my career,” he said. “I was year six or seven before A.J. was born and it was one of my goals to have my kids be old enough to remember dad playing.”
As he kicks off his 23rd season, that’s one more accomplishment Adam Vinatieri can check off his list.
“It’s kind of a cool thing for me,” he said. “At this point, my youngest is eight. I would hope that he would remember.”
Father to A.J., Allison, and Gabriel, this year, Adam was able to make some special memories with his oldest son at training camp.
“I wanted him to come out and see how it is on the sideline of an NFL camp,” he said.
A freshman in high school, A.J. answered the same way any young football player would.
“I said, ‘Alright. Sounds fun!’”
But it wasn’t all fun and games.
“He’s learning a little bit hanging out with Rob (Mathis) and some of the other guys, learning some defensive line stuff and picking up some bags,” Adam said. “He’s got to work. He’s got to earn his keep too.”
It says a lot about his teammates that he wants his son to spend time with them.
"They’re not blood relatives of mine, but they’re just as much family to me. I’ve got a great relationship with all these guys. We always talk about blood, sweat, and tears on the field. Guys will do anything for their brothers on the field. It’s an extension of my family."
Inspired by his dad, A.J. started playing football in second grade. But after suffering an injury, he gave it up for a few years. In middle school, he picked it up again – and he hasn’t looked back.
A kicker who also plays defense, A.J. said he doesn’t feel any pressure wearing the name Vinatieri on his jersey.
“I feel honored to wear it,” he said.
Because he knows his dad is proud of him no matter what.
“He always says, ‘I want you to do well in sports, but all in all, I just want you to have a good life. There’s no pressure about our last name. If you don’t want to play sports or if you don’t want to carry on the name, that’s fine. I’ll always be proud of you.’”
For A.J., football isn’t about his famous father or following in his footsteps. He loves what the game has done for him.
“Football keeps me motivated to get good grades and do well in school because if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be able to play. Playing sports like football in high school, you’re teammates with everyone out there. You get to be friends with them on and off the field. It helps you socially.”
It’s also helped him become a leader – like his dad.
“He always told me, ‘Football is not about one player. It’s a whole team. And if everyone on your team dislikes you, then they’re not going to listen to you. So, you’ve got to be friends with everyone.’”
And spending time on the practice field with former linebacker and current pass rush specialist Robert Mathis is a lesson in leadership itself.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “He was one of the best there is and it’s great for him to teach me.”
His favorite part of practice is when the pads come out.
“I like when they start to hit each other because it makes everything more fun to watch. When everyone starts hitting, that’s when stuff gets real. That’s when you separate the boys from the men.”
It’s one of the things he likes about playing defense.
“I had the chance to play tight end and I chose defense because I like hitting people more than being hit.”
But he has a great appreciation for special teams and what they bring to the game.
“When you play defense, you don’t really score a lot of points, but field goals and extra points are a lot more important than everyone thinks they are. There are a lot of games that come down to a field goal.”
Over the years, he’s watched his dad (Mr. Clutch) secure countless victories with a straight shot through the uprights - enough to land himself in the record books. This season, Adam Vinatieri is poised to break longstanding NFL records for points and field goals.
Whether it’s a hit or a miss for A.J., he knows what to expect from his dad afterwards.
“If I miss it, he looks at me like, ‘Hey, what did you do wrong? You’ll get the next one,’” he said. “I’ve got a good coach.”
In football and in life.