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NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri shows us age (46) is just a number

Ryan Stieg

Last weekend I felt old. Like really old.

As I pulled a muscle in my neck doing the simple task of getting out of bed, I noticed I still had a couple cassette tapes in my apartment.

Then later when I was looking at a high school football roster, I realized that a lot of the kids were born around the time I graduated.

When people find out that I’m in my 30s, they’re usually surprised and stare at me in disbelief. A couple of my coworkers found that out recently and their bewildered faces have lingered in my mind for the past few days. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, that’s for sure.

I imagine various athletes feel the same way when they hit their 30s. When you hit that point, you’re typically in the latter half of your career and people start to think less of your abilities, even if you’re one of the best at what you do.

If you’re a free agent, teams will probably be reluctant to give you a long-term contract because your stats will probably drop during that span and you might be more prone to injury, at least in the minds of general managers.

Meanwhile, if you’re under contract, your team may be looking for ways to make a deal to keep you at a lower cost, and if you struggle, fans may be clamoring for your younger backup to replace you.

If your team does decide to trade you or release you, they and the fans will be ecstatic as you will no longer fill up space on the roster. All of this could happen before you hit middle age, which has to hurt.

Some athletes defy the odds and play for far longer than they should, like Tom Brady, who I’m thinking must’ve made some deal with some spiritual being to last as long as he has, or Tiger Woods, who shocked us all by winning the Masters this year.

There’s Brett Favre, who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC championship game at age 40; Jerry Rice, who played in the Super Bowl at 40; and George Foreman, who showed he could still pack a punch by winning the heavyweight title at 45.

Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at 46, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record at 40, Rickey Henderson broke three career Major League Baseball records at 43, and both Randy Johnson (perfect game) and Nolan Ryan (no-hitter) were in their 40s when they still blazed fastballs past far younger hitters.

All of those feats are quite impressive and possibly unachievable these days without performance-enhancing drugs.

Another aging athlete showed last Sunday that he can still be clutch — Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. He’s 46, by far the oldest player in the NFL, and is the modern-day version of George Blanda, one of the original athletes who showed you can still play at a peak level when your hair turns gray.

Vinatieri also showed us that you can achieve success even after a less-than-stellar career at a lesser-known school. According to an Indianapolis Star article last year, he made 27 for 53 field goals at South Dakota State, including a disastrous senior season, when he went 4 for 12.

At one point in his career with the Jackrabbits, he was benched in favor of a defensive lineman. Just imagine showing up for work one day and finding out that your boss thought a guy who doesn’t even do your job could do it better.

It’s a common joke that we tell sometime: “I could do better than that,” but Vinatieri had to actually be the butt of that joke.

Yet despite that, for my generation, he’s the most famous kicker of our day and a guy who has provided some of the biggest memories in our lives.

Vinatieri gave New England its first Super Bowl win at the final horn in a huge upset over the St. Louis Rams back in 2002, and did it again for the Patriots in 2004. As clutch as those moments are, he was indoors at the time when he made them.

He was even efficient under pressure outdoors as he drilled home the game-tying and winning field goals in the famous “Tuck Rule” playoff game against the Oakland Raiders during a blizzard in New England.

To me, though, his best kick happened in 2017 as he made the craziest extra points I’ve ever seen, hitting it from 43 yards out with a couple inches of snow on the ground and into a blinding, vicious wind in Buffalo. When he kicked the ball, it looked like it would sail at least a foot wide of the right upright, but it curved back and right down the middle to tie the game and force overtime.

If you get a chance, search for the clip online. It’s insane that he made that kick.

Despite that impressive resume, Vinatieri started to have his doubters, especially after the first two weeks of this season. He missed two field goals and an extra point in Week 1 and then two extra points in Week 2.

With his advanced age, it’s understandable that people might be wondering if he’d finally hit the wall. Maybe he even thought so himself as he told an Indianapolis reporter that he’d hear from him on Monday, despite players not being available that day.

Naturally, people on social media, including me, wondered if he was going to retire. Obviously he didn’t, saying that day “sometimes we all need a little time to decompress. I needed a little extra time.”

On Sunday, Vinatieri showed that we should think twice about doubting him. After missing two field goals earlier in the game against Denver, he calmly nailed a 51-yarder to win the game for the Colts.

After watching a 46-year-old man prove that age is just a number, I started to feel better about myself. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you can’t do things and doesn’t mean you’re out of touch with the changing world.

The old cliche is that age is just a number and Vinatieri proved that to me last week. Now I just need to make sure I remember that any time I read a high school roster.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.