When Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri was growing up in Rapid City, he would see the list of the great kickers in the NFL and all he could do was admire the names, not thinking he would ever be on that list of immortals.
On a Sunday afternoon in Houston early in November, already on the list of great kickers, he moved up another spot on the list he could never have seen himself on.
A extra point during the Colts' game against the Houston Texans put Vinatieri at 2,435 for his career, second most of all time. He passed long time Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Gary Anderson to accomplish the feat.
The four-time Super Bowl champion, former Rapid City Central Cobbler and South Dakota State Jackrabbit said in a phone interview with the Journal that it's not something he ever could have imagined happening when he started playing football.
"To slowly but surely inch my way up the list and pass some really great kickers and inch my way into the No. 2 spot, it was awesome," he said. "For me to be in my 22nd year and have (roughly) 2,400 points is something I never thought would ever happen. I never anticipated playing this long in the NFL but I’m very fortunate and lucky that I have."
Vinatieri is grateful to have gotten this far, but said he might not be done yet.
The 44-year-old has been kicking for 22 seasons as a member of the New England Patriots (1996-2005) and Indianapolis (2006-present), and although he is not under contract for next season, he said he would like to play again.
"I’d definitely like to play one more year for sure and see if I can pass (Morten Andersen) on that. I think it’d be really cool and something really special," he said. "From then on I kind of take it a week at a time and a year at a time and see where it ends up. I know I’m getting older, my body is changing, it takes a little more effort to stay healthy and stay fit. I still enjoy it, I still enjoy running it out on the field in front of 70,000 screaming fans... I really do love it, but at this point I take it a game at a time. If I’m fortunate enough to play next season and everything feels good, I don’t see why I wouldn’t continue on."
Going into the today's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vinatieri was only 87 points away from tying the record. His points per season average coming into the current season was 113.2, putting him on pace to pass Andersen next season if a team signs him.
It's still debatable if moving past Andersen would be the greatest accomplishment of Vinatieri's career, or if that already happened during his days in New England.
Before the Patriots were a dynasty that was in contention for Super Bowls every season, they were a pesky group of players that clawed their way to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.
The game came down to the leg on Vinatieri to either break a 17-17 tie or go to overtime or send the Patriots home as world champions.
As time expired, Vinatieri hit a 48-yard game winner to give New England its first Super Bowl title.
"It’s kind of hard to describe to be honest with you. You know, as a kid you dream about, at least I did. I dreamed about playing professional football and playing in the NFL, and if you do, the ultimate goal and the ultimate situation is helping your team win the Super Bowl," he said. "For me to have that opportunity and to have success at that is really a dream come true. I think the only thing emotionally that could compare to that is the birth of my children. "It’s a completely different situation obviously, one is family and one is professional but you work your entire life trying to get to the top of the mountain and to put the icing on the cake, and to help your team win, and to be world champs was pretty special."
Two years later he would have another chance to do the exact same thing. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers were tied when Vinatieri was asked to hit a 41-yard field goal with four seconds left.
He did just that.
"You try to think, ‘hey it’s the same as any other kick’ and obviously your heart is pounding and the whole week you’re thinking about Super Bowl stuff and the media is reminding you about what could happen; Scott Norwood missing one so you know what’s there," he said. "You know what’s on the line and what’s there but it’s the same as any other kick.
"You have to block all of that out. A 48-yard field goal is a 48-yard field goal and there’s nothing that changes, except for what it means. If you can block that out you’ll be pretty successful."
Being successful is something Vinatieri has certainly accomplished. He's gone on to win another Super Bowl with the Patriots (XXXIX) and one with the Colts (XLI).
And to think it all started in Rapid City, South Dakota.
"I felt very, very fortunate to come from Rapid City, the state of South Dakota," he said. "My family was very supportive and gave me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of stuff, and I still hold the fact that being from South Dakota is as good of a situation as anywhere.
"A lot of people think you have to come from Texas or Florida or whatever to make it to the NFL, but there’s a lot of people, coaches, teachers and family that try to help us ultimately achieve our goals. I don’t think it’s any crutch at all being from a small state, if anything I think it helps you get there. Being at a school like Central and going to South Dakota State was a great opportunity for me."