The scariest sports-related moment in the life of the hottest kicker in football didn't come on the field, even though the Colts' Mike Vanderjagt had been a terrific athlete in four sports growing up in Oakville, Ontario. After kicking for the Grey Cup-champion Toronto Argonauts in 1997, Vanderjagt, like his teammates, was allowed to keep the cup for a day to show it off to family and friends. He took it to a bar in Oakville and had a few beers, but when he was ready to leave at around 1 a.m., the cup was gone.
"It was worth $58,000," recalls Vanderjagt, "which was significantly more than my salary at the time. I panicked." It turned out that a couple of guys had taken the cup as as a joke and deposited it in a friend's kitchen. It was returned a short time later. Only now can Vanderjagt laugh about it. "I tell people I've been in two Grey Cups," he says, "and I've won two and lost one."
Vanderjagt was signed as a free agent by the Colts before the 1998 season and has made a remarkable 41 of his last 43 field goal attempts. The cocksure Canadian has booted three game winners at the gun—all on the road—in the last 10 games. Moments before he kicked a 45-yarder to beat the Bills 18-16 in windswept Buffalo on Oct. 1, Vanderjagt made eye contact with his former holder in Toronto, Bills backup quarterback Doug Flutie, then smiled at him and nodded. "I just wanted him to see how much I loved being under that pressure," Vanderjagt says, "because I knew how much he missed being in that spot: game on the line, ball in your hands."
Why is Vanderjagt so cool under the gun? "When I was growing up, I played the pressure positions—quarterback in football, shooting guard in basketball, goalie in soccer—and I got used to being the guy who'd win or lose the game for his team," he says. "It's pretty easy to make a 45-yarder in practice. It's tougher to make one with your stomach churning, heart pumping and 70,000 people screaming at you. But I've gotten to the point where I enjoy it."