When Adam Vinatieri got off the plane at Tri-Cities Regional Airport outside Blountville, Tenn., there in the arrivals lounge was this tiny dude with a drooping right eye and a gnarled left hand that was bent in at the wrist like a field-hockey stick. "I thought someone was making a big joke," Vinatieri recalls. "Here is this handicapped guy being wheeled around by his wife. I'm like, Seriously, where's Blevins at?"
But in the minivan on the way to Abingdon, as Blevins described the areas they needed to work on--Number 1: Make sure you are square with the goal line every time you kick, dammit--Vinatieri felt he had come to the right place. No one had ever talked to him this knowledgeably about kicking. "Doug has the perfect kick in his mind," Vinatieri says. "Your perfect kick. He's never kicked a football, so he doesn't have this idea that there is only one way to do things. He watches you and figures out what you need to do."
Vinatieri rented a tiny apartment in Abingdon and took successive jobs driving a taxi, waiting tables and tending bar. That winter and spring he kicked four days a week with Blevins and headed over to Mama's house for Sunday dinner. "We ate, slept and drank football," Vinatieri recalls. "We were like two kids on the outside looking in."
Blevins quickly turned Vinatieri from an average college kicker into a very good college kicker. By the end of the winter Vinatieri had become one of the most consistent kickers Blevins had ever worked with. "The ball was exploding off his foot," Blevins recalls. He had become a consultant for NFL Europe and needed a kicker for the video he would show to the converted soccer players the league was flying over to Atlanta for training camp. He used Vinatieri to demonstrate the proper techniques for field goals, kickoffs and punts. Pretty soon NFL Europe G.M.s were asking Blevins, What about the kid in the video, can we sign him? Vinatieri joined the Amsterdam Admirals in the spring of 1996 and was in the New England Patriots' camp that summer. Two Super Bowl-winning field goals later, Vinatieri says of Doug Blevins, "I wouldn't be here without him."
Blevins has since helped eight other kickers and punters make the NFL, and he's worked with another 13 who were already in the league. That's almost two dozen walking, talking r�sum�s.
There is no handicapped sticker on Blevins's minivan. He refuses to park in spaces for the disabled. And if you feel sorry for him, he has this to say to you: Piss off. His relentlessly positive attitude seems willfully unrealistic. When he has been fired from coaching jobs (as when the entire Jets staff was dismissed after the '94 season) or passed over by NFL teams, he has insisted on seeing the rejection as an opportunity. Mama says that's just how Doug is. "Everything has been twice as hard for him," says Linda, who divorced Doug's father in 1975. "That's really irritated me. But he just doesn't let it bother him--or he doesn't let it show."
Blevins says his affliction is the "Cadillac of handicaps," in that it's not progressive or life-threatening or completely disabling. His tireless optimism enables him to keep his dignity when he has to hold his bladder on airplane flights; when he needs assistance climbing in and out of the shower; when he needs help wiping himself at the toilet.
"The hardest thing about being physically handicapped," he says, "is that women don't find me sexually attractive." Fortunately, he will tell you, they are drawn by his blustery confidence. "Men are shallow," he says, "but women aren't, thank God."
Blevins has been married twice: first to Nenita Colon, with whom he has a six-year-old son, Roman, and now to Nancy Duque, 42. Doug and Nancy just had their first child, Sarah Elizabeth. Both of Doug's children are healthy. The only time his mood darkens is when he is asked about Roman, over whom he and his ex-wife are fighting a custody battle. "That's hard," he admits. "That's a tough deal there."
He does get hurt, insists the Colombian-born Nancy, but he will never admit it. "He has been punished," Nancy says. "People only see him as handicapped. They don't see the professional in him, the man in him."