One of the longest-tenured Colts players is Adam Vinatieri, who is entering his eleventh season as the incredibly-reliable placekicker. Of course, as we all know, Vinatieri spent the first ten years of his career with the New England Patriots, but a report came out this week that his career in New England almost never took off.
According Mike Francesca on WFAN last week, Patriots head coach Bill Parcells nearly cut Vinatieri just a few games into the kicker's rookie season. It's crazy to think back so many years, but Vinatieri was once an undrafted kicker with very little job security. In the first two games of the 1996 season, Vinatieri went just 2-for-5 on kicks, including three misses in the team's week two loss to the Buffalo Bills (they lost 17-10). The following week, Vinatieri missed his first kick of the day against the Arizona Cardinals, falling to 2-for-6 on the year. At that point, Parcells was nearly finished with his rookie kicker.
With the Patriots leading the Cardinals 28-0 with just 30 seconds left, Parcells sent Vinatieri out to attempt a 31-yard field goal anyway. It wasn't in an effort to run up the score or embarrass the opponent; it was to see whether his kicker was worth keeping. Francesca recalls Parcells once telling him that that the coach told Vinatieri, "you better make this field goal" before sending him out for that 31-yarder. Vinatieri did, and the rest is history.
Vinatieri went on to win two Super Bowls for the Patriots with his leg while establishing his reputation as perhaps the most clutch kicker in NFL history. While this story was all about Vinatieri's time with the Patriots, it's worth mentioning in connection with the Colts too because of how much it could have changed their franchise's history as well. They signed Vinatieri as a free agent in 2006 and he has been tremendous for them ever since, converting 86.6% of his field goals. But had Vinatieri been cut by the Patriots just three games into his rookie season (at which point he would have made 50% of his kicks or less), it's uncertain whether he would have received as good of a shot elsewhere. It's especially uncertain whether the Colts would have had the opportunity or the desire to go after the kicker in 2006 and move on from Mike Vanderjagt. In other words, had Bill Parcells actually gone through with it and cut Vinatieri in 1996, it's not just Patriots history that would have been changed - Colts history would look quite a bit different too. Vinatieri is the franchise's all-time leader in points scored, but his career came close to dying before it was hardly even started.