WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Adam Vinatieri vividly remembers his last game against Morten Andersen.
Andersen had already logged more than 20 seasons in the NFL, was well into his 40s, nearing the end of his career and still kicking as well as anyone in the league. Back then, Vinatieri marveled at how the seemingly ageless Andersen managed to excel for so long.
Now, more than a decade later, Vinatieri finds himself grinding through his 23rd NFL training camp, hoping to join the NFL’s career scoring leader in the Hall of Fame. Andersen was inducted last year.
“I would have liked to have seen a handful more kickers and punters make it in there, but finally getting a second kicker in and Ray Guy getting in, it’s good that we have some representation in there because those guys did a lot for the league,” the Indianapolis Colts kicker said.
Andersen’s induction last year provided hope to specialists such as Vinatieri that they, too, could be headed to Canton, Ohio, one day.
Until Andersen’s selection, Vinatieri wasn’t sure. The only one other “pure” kicker to earn pro football’s highest distinction was Jan Stenerud in 1991. Guy was elected in 2014, ending the shutout for punters.
Some believe Vinatieri could be next.
His sterling resume glistens with Hall of Fame credentials: four Super Bowl rings, the league record for 100-point seasons (20) and second all-time in career scoring (2,487 points). Anderson finished with 2,544 and Vinatieri needs 58 points to break the record, which could happen at midseason if all goes well.
He owns the career record for scoring in postseason games (234), is the only player to top 1,000 points and make 200 field goals with two teams, has celebrated a league-record 225 victories, including playoffs, and made a league-high 44 consecutive field goals. If Vinatieri completes this season, he would become only the third 46-year-old player to suit up for an NFL team.
His highlight reel contains some of the most memorable kicks in league history: two last-minute field goals to win Super Bowls and the tying and winning kicks in the infamous Snow Bowl, which helped New England win the first of its five Lombardi Trophies. He has been dubbed the best clutch kicker in league history and there’s no indication “Automatic Adam” is slowing down.
“It’s ridiculous,” holder Rigoberto Sanchez said. “It’s honestly out of this world, I think. Twenty-three years in the league, still kicking the ball the way he kicks it, 60 yards out in practice. It’s unreal.”
Just how much has Vinatieri seen and done during his career?
He is the last link to the NFL’s developmental league in Europe, the one Andrew Luck’s father worked with, and one of only two players left from the 1990s. Former teammate Phil Dawson is the other.
Vinatieri joined the league before former teammates Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, still reminds people he once tackled Herschel Walker and acknowledges missing on Desmond Howard and Devin Hester as they returned his kickoffs for Super Bowl scores.
He played for Hall of Fame coaches Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy, in addition to Bill Belichick. His newest coach, Frank Reich, actually threw for 281 yards against the Patriots during Vinatieri’s rookie season in 1996.
Somehow, though, he remains the epitome of consistency.
Last year, with a new long snapper and a new holder, Vinatieri still made 85.3 percent of his field goals and scored 109 points and now he’s back with his oldest son, A.J., serving as a ball boy at training camp.
“It comes to a point where Adam is Mr. Clutch over here, so (long snapper) Luke (Rhodes) just tries to do his job right and get the 12 o’clock laces and I try to get the ball in the spot that he likes and let him do the rest,” said Sanchez, who wasn’t even born until a week after Vinatieri’s NFL debut in 1996. “He’s been kicking it straight for a long time.”
Despite the honors, the nicknames and the Hall of Fame predictions, Vinatieri knows he may still need more to follow the kicker he has been watching since his younger days in South Dakota into the NFL’s most hallowed halls.
“I don’t think it hurts, that’s for sure,” Vinatieri said. “It’s one of those things that I haven’t really though too much about it. I’m still just trying to help my team win games and keep on putting chapters in this book and if that happens, fantastic.”
NOTES: The Colts have activated starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker from the physically unable to perform list Thursday. Both were coming off knee surgery. … Guard Jeremy Vujnovich also was activated from PUP. He had been out with an injured calf after starting all 16 games last season.