For much of the 2009 regular season, Adam Viantieri battled a nagging knee injury that eventually required surgery. The surgery and recovery time knocked AV out until late-December. Interestingly, at the time, the Colts did not place Viantieri on IR.
As Christmas rolling around, the Colts were 13-0 and cruising to a top seed in the AFC Playoffs. Along for the ride was veteran kicker Matt Stover, who the Colts had signed after the Baltimore Ravens stupidly cut him following the 2008 in favor of a younger kicker. While Stover's kicking range was limited, he was dependable.
When Colts opted to go with Matt Stover as the primary kicker on the Colts playoff roster, it was interesting that the team opted to keep Vinatieri active instead of just IRing him. Vinatieri was active all throughout the playoffs, and was present throughout the build-up to the Super Bowl. On Super Bowl Sunday, the Colts left him inactive on the game roster. He watched, from the sidelines in street clothes, as Matt Stover missed a pretty important field goal. The Colts would go on to lose Super Bowl 44.
I saw Vinatieri in the locker-room following the game. For a guy who hadn't played football since October, you'd think he was the one who just missed the kick and lost the game. Stern-faced and seemingly pissed off, Vinatieri marched to the team bus with the look of a guy you did not want to mess with.
Yet, despite the disappointment of not playing, and the disappointment of watching the team lose a Super Bowl, Vinatieri was not upset with the Colts decision to go with Stover over him. In fact, in comments recently to Colts.com, Vinaiteri said he supported the decision:
"I understood the decision," Vinatieri said. "I backed the decision they made. I felt like I could have gone out and done my job. I knew I could have gone – at least I thought I could – but I understood that it was a question mark. The only thing that would have been worse than not playing would have been going out there and re-injuring myself, Now, all of a sudden, you're jeopardizing the success of our team. I understood the decision."
With all the "RAWR!" going on around here about Anthony Gonzalez and his status, lost in the "Hey look! He's back!" shuffle is Vinatieri, who is participating in OTAs and says he's as healthy as he's been in some time.
"Everything's healed up and looking good. The entire off-season, we've been working on strengthening everything back and making sure I'll be ready for a long season. Things have been moving in exactly the direction we wanted to go.
"We started our kicking progress now, so we'll be ready to go come training camp, that's for sure."
A healthy Adam Vinatieri could make a big difference for the Colts in 2010. Vinatieri is the best big-game kicker in the NFL. Kindly save me the silly stats that say he's only kicked X number of long distance FGs over the last number of blah-blah-blah years. None of that crap mattered when he nailed that 47-yarder with 3 seconds left to beat the Vikings in Week Two of 2008, or the 51-yarder that beat the Chargers in Week 12 of 2008.
Without those two wins, the Colts might not have made the playoffs in 2008.
AV is money, and a healthy AV likely would have made the 51-yarder that Stover missed in Super Bowl 44. Some thought that missed kick was the turning point. I'm not sure I agree, but the missed kick certainly didn't help.