Clutch kickers await Super Bowl clash

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

MIAMI - Robbie Gould knows who he wants lining up for the biggest kick in the biggest game. It isn't him. Well, he sure wouldn't mind if he gets the call. But the Chicago Bears' outstanding placekicker, an All-Pro this season, recognizes who is the best clutch kicker in the game: his mentor, Adam Vinatieri.
And guess who will be attempting the Indianapolis Colts' field goals and extra points in Sunday's Super Bowl. Yep, Automatic Adam.
"Who else would you want to have?" says Gould, apparently dismissing himself. "Let's be honest, the guy's hit 22 game-winning field goals when it's on the line, in big-time Super Bowl games, AFC championship games. I wouldn't want anybody else."
Vinatieri is flattered when Gould's praise is relayed. This will be Vinatieri's fifth Super Bowl in 11 NFL seasons, and he has a record 37 postseason field goals, including 11-for-11 this year. He made two winning kicks in Super Bowls, beating St. Louis in 2002 and Carolina in 2004 for the Patriots.
His 45-yarder in the snow to tie a 2002 playoff game with Oakland is the stuff of NFL lore.
"I'm just very fortunate and very lucky to be able to play in this many," Vinatieri says. "There are a lot of guys who play their entire career and never get close, or if they do, they make it once and never see it again. I've got ... four in the last six. That's pretty good.
"When you play on a team like this, good teams that win a lot of games, I guess that betters your odds."
The odds might have seemed against Vinatieri in 1996. He was not drafted out of college - "Who gets drafted out of South Dakota State?" he quips - and signed with Amsterdam of the World League of American Football. He made a big enough impression there to earn an invite from the Patriots, made the team and helped New England win the AFC championship.
It wasn't until the 2001 season and subsequent run to the NFL title that Vinatieri became a star, then a legend in New England. And when he became a free agent after last season, the Colts targeted him to replace the enigmatic Mike Vanderjagt. Talk about ridiculous to the sublime.
Vinatieri wanted to join another contender and signed a five-year, $12 million deal. And while Gould was making headlines among league kickers, Vinatieri simply provided the consistency Indianapolis sought.
Then he made five field goals in a 15-6 postseason victory at Baltimore, and kicked three more in the 38-34 win over his former team in the AFC title game.
It was back to the big one.
"He's the consummate professional," Colts special teams coach Russ Purnell says. "He tries to get better every day. He's very professional in his attitude, his work ethic, his preparation. Being in his 11th year and having proven himself as a clutch kicker season after season, Super Bowl after Super Bowl, he still tries to get better."
Vinatieri might need to be at his best to match Gould, his former protege. Gould made 32 of 36 field goals, all 47 extra points and led the NFL with 143 points in 2006. He made 24 straight field goals to start the season, a team record.
Pretty good for someone who was undrafted out of Penn State, failed to stick with the Patriots and the Ravens, and was working construction when he signed with the desperate Bears in Week 5 of last season to replace the unreliable Doug Brien.
Gould has been, well, gold.
"As a kicker, you can't really think too negative," Gould said. "If you start to think negative and start to think you are going to miss kicks, then you're going to end up missing kicks.
"Every kick is makable. No matter what the situation is, you're always going to have a chance; Lovie Smith's never going to put you in a situation where you can't succeed. So you've got to have the confidence to go out there and know that every kick you take you can make."
His biggest make was a 49-yarder in overtime to beat Seattle in the Bears' first playoff game. He also hit three field goals in the NFC title game against New Orleans.
Who does Gould point to for much of his success? None other than Vinatieri.
"I give him a lot of credit," Gould says. "Adam's been a guy that's taught me a lot of what I needed to know and what I needed to do to get to where I'm at today. Is he a teacher to me? Yeah, he is. Does he think that? I've heard he doesn't."
Well, Adam, have you trained the man who just might beat your team on Sunday?
Vinatieri chuckles, then demurs.
"When he was in camp, I was a nine-year guy or whatever. At that point, he was a young kid excited just to be there," Vinatieri recalls. "He and I had the opportunity to talk a lot about football, life, good days and bad days. I think I probably learned as much from him as he could have learned from me."
Vinatieri expects to chat with Gould during warmups at Dolphin Stadium. But he won't be offering any tips, any advice, any of his expertise.
And he won't be rooting for Gould to have a bad day.
"I never root for someone to miss," he says. "I just want to make more kicks than he does."