Sadly, FIFA futbol is over for the USA. The spotlight now shifts from South Africa to the countdown to Colts training camp in Anderson in four weeks.
And speaking of kicking a ball...
I've stated all off-season (with the tact of a runaway train crashing through a mini-mall) that any talk of Adam Vinatieri losing his job to a rookie, or getting cut prior to the start of the regular season, is a load of crap. Adam V is the kicker for this team in 2010. Period.
Despite several injury setbacks last season, which resulted in Vinatieri playing in only six games, the Colts never placed the veteran clutch kicker on IR. That, right there, should tell you all you need to know about how much the Colts value Vinatieri. In fact, he was available to play in Super Bowl 44. However, the Colts de-activated him prior to the start of the game.
Personally, I think that decision was a mistake by Caldwell.
Vinatieri had a better track record in making longer FGs than his temporary replacement in 2009, Matt Stover. Had Vinatieri been available to play, I think he would have made that 49-yarder Stover missed in the fourth quarter. Making that FG might have changed the outcome of the game along with a host of other things (onside kick, Reggie running proper route, Freeney not getting hurt, etc.).
One of the reasons the Colts seem to value Vinatieri so much is because he commands such respect from his teammates. His presence alone can help create a winning environment. I know that sounds kind of funny when discussing a guy whose sole job is to kick a ball through a pair of up-rights, but it's true. People respect Adam Vinatieri.
I still maintain that it was a mistake for the Patriots to let him go in 2006. They haven't won a Super Bowl since jettisoning him, and a reason they lost Super Bowl 42 against the Giants was because Bill Belichick had no faith in kicker Stephen Gostkowski, Vinatieri's replacement in New England, to convert a 45-plus yard FG in the second half. Last season, Gostkowski was wretched in the Patriots loss to the Ravens in the playoffs, a game the Patriots lost at home 33-14.
I'm not a Gostkowski-hater, and I don't think he's is a "bad" kicker. He is just not a special player. Adam Vinatieri is a special player, and the guy better make the Hall of Fame when he retires.
But, my over-inflated opinion of Vinatieri is not the one that matters comes roster cutdown day in early September. Jim Caldwell's does. John Oehser and Colts.com caught up with Caldwell recently and discussed Adam Vinatieri's value to the Colts:
"[Vinatieri's] maturity, his consistency, his professionalism are things that spill over beyond what he does."
Those elements lead to an intangible element for the entire team, Caldwell said.
"The confidence we have in him in terms of him doing his job is pretty high," Caldwell said. "When he's healthy, he's one of the best in the business."
Football is as much a game of confidence as it is a game of skill and strength. We joke that kickers are a dime-a-dozen, and that they aren't "real" football players. We call them kickers who just happen to play football. However, Adam Vinatieri cracks that stereotype and smashes it into a million pieces.
Adam Vinatieri is a football player who just happens to kick.
Kindly name me another kicker in this league who lifts weights with linemen the way Adam does. I'll also remind you that he runs sprint drills with the linebackers. His work ethic and his commitment to the team go a long way to creating a unified group of men with one goal in mind: Winning. I mean, if you are a rookie coming into the league and you see the friggin kicker running sprints with the linebackers, that right there should tell you that you ain't in the SEC anymore.
From a 2005 Boston Glob article:
"Adam is a football player that kicks," said Dave Dolan, one of his former football coaches at Central. "I think he proved that early in his [NFL] career when he ran down Herschel Walker [on a kickoff return]."
No offense to Brett Swenson or Garrett Lindholm, two rookies brought in to kick for the Colts during pre-season, but neither one of them has the kind of impact on a football team that Adam Vinatieri does. They may have stronger legs, younger bodies, and less wear-and-tear. But, they are not (at present) the kind of difference maker Adam is.
For Vinny, being healthy, and staying healthy, has to be his #1 priority in 2010.
No one will question Vinatieri's toughness. We've seen him kick despite foot, knee, and hip injuries. Rarely has he ever used injury as an excuse for poor play. But, the reality is that injuries absolutely cannot affect his ability to hit field goals. An injured kicker missing 33-yard FGs is a useless kicker, no matter how tough the guy is. Even though Vinny is tough, his position is not a contact position. There is simply no reason why he should be sustaining multiple injuries to his knees, feet, and hip. We love Adam for his grit. We admire him because he's "a football player that kicks." However, at 37, Adam needs to focus a bit more on simply kicking the ball through the uprights. Nothing else.
With Pat McAfee taking over as the kick-off specialist, Vinatieri can focus solely on doing what he has built his legendary reputation on: Making big kicks in big situations.
For the Colts in 2010, Vinatieri is a pretty big linchpin in their special teams. Colts coach Jim Caldwell:
"He went through a tough time last year, trying to rush to get ready. He had the procedures that set him back a little bit. This year, he's not worried about all of that. All he is doing is getting prepared to kick. I know he feels good about his progress. We feel good about his progress."
"We anticipate he'll be back to his old form, for sure."
Not sure what those "procedures" were that set him back, but with two rookie kickers likely to attend camp (and do a bulk of the kicking duties in pre-season), all Vinatieri needs to focus on is staying healthy because, when healthy, there is no other kicker in this game that is as "money" as Adam V.