With Super Bowl on the line, Mr. Money calmly delivers again
Updated: Monday February 2, 2004 3:23AM
By Don Banks, SI.com
HOUSTON -- So much for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. That's really the only downside to Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 41-yard field goal in Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Two years ago in New Orleans, the New England kicker delivered Super Bowl XXXVI to the Patriots with a 48-yard field goal at the gun, beating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams 20-17. As special as that memory is, it is no longer singular.
At this rate, Vinatieri is hoping it's a habit he never kicks.
"Most people never even get an opportunity to play in this game, let alone to have an opportunity to put the last points on the board,'' said Vinatieri, moments after his lone field goal of the game -- with four seconds remaining -- produced New England's dramatic 32-29 victory against Carolina.
"You hope you have an opportunity at the end of the game to make a difference. Fortunately for myself, the guys did a great job. [Quarterback] Tom [Brady] and the guys moved the ball down the field, and we had an opportunity to win it again.''
An opportunity that came only after Vinatieri had failed on his first two field-goal attempts. He missed wide right on a 31-yard try on the Patriots' first possession, and had a 36-yard kick blocked by Panthers reserve defensive tackle Shane Burton in the second quarter .
Those two failures gave Vinatieri four misses in Reliant Stadium this season, counting the two kicks he missed in New England's 23-20 overtime win at Houston on Nov. 23. Those are the only indoor misses of Vinatieri's eight-year NFL career. He entered Sunday 35-of-37 indoors, and is now 36-of-40.
"The first field goal, I was probably a little excited, and was a little bit too fast and I pushed it right a little bit,'' he said. "The second one, obviously Carolina was trying to win, too, and they got pressure up the middle and ended up blocking that. But you almost have to get those out of your head and move forward. You can't think about that too terribly much.''
Lining up for his game-winning try, Vinatieri was thinking about just one thing: "It just came down to rhythm, and to win this thing and get the heck out of here.''
Vinatieri's kick capped the Patriots' game-winning, six-play, 37-yard drive, which got the unlikely boost of starting at the New England 40, thanks to Carolina kicker John Kasay booting the preceding kickoff out of bounds.
Kasay's pain was Vinatieri's gain.
"Unfortunately for him and their team, I'm sure he didn't want to kick that ball out of bounds,'' Vinatieri said. "I'm sure that wasn't their game plan. But John's an amazing kicker, and he had an incredible [50-yard] field goal before the half.
"Sometimes, whether it's a kickoff, extra point or game-winner at the end, you never know when that kick is going to make a difference in the outcome of the game. He had a nice game, a nice season, and, yeah, unfortunately that ball just came off his foot wrong.''
Kasay concurred. "I caught it just a little late,'' he said. "I was trying to make a really good kick. I got a little high and a little outside on the ball. That never even entered my mind. We needed a really good kick, and I didn't get it done.''
That never seems to happen to Vinatieri, at least not when it really matters.
"Adam has been making big kicks since his rookie year in '96,'' Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "He's a pressure kicker. He's really consistent.''
Said Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel: "Adam is Mr. Money. He has made so many of the kicks when's he's had the chance with the game on the line.''
Vinatieri's teammates have learned that they don't even have to cover their eyes when he lines up with the team's season hinging on his performance.
"Oh, I was watching,'' New England middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "I was watching. There's no doubt. No doubt in that guy when the game's on the line, I don't care if he's missed five kicks before, he's going to come through and win it for us. You knew he was going to come through, You could already see all the flashbulbs.''
For Vinatieri, they illuminated another magic moment in a kicking career that is quickly becoming Hall of Fame caliber.
"They never get old,'' Vinatieri said of his game-winners. "They never ever get old. I still think the most difficult kick I've had was the game-tying [45-yard] field goal in the snow versus Oakland [in the 2001 Divisional round].
"But with the type of venue and the pressure on you, these are never easy. You try and block all that out and think, 'Hey, it's a 41-yarder. It doesn't matter if it's the Super Bowl or it's in practice three months from now.' But I'll definitely cherish this one for a long time.''