Colts at Denver
Kickoff: Colts at Denver, 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field in Mile High, Denver.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
INDIANAPOLIS – There's nothing new left for the NFL's oldest player to see or do. He has four Super Bowl rings, multiple legendary plays and a career's worth of epic games alongside some of the greatest players ever.
Yet here he is, at age 41, gray whiskers on his chin, as eager for 2014 to start as he was 2004. Check that. Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is as eager as he was his first season in 1996, back when Andrew Luck was 7 years old.
“The excitement level just amps up exponentially,” Vinatieri said in a description fitting an old pro.
“Obviously, having this first game against the defending AFC champs, Peyton Manning and the boys from Denver,” Vinatieri said. “We all know how great they are, how good of a team they are, how explosive the offense is and how good their defense is. It's great, great challenge. We all know, we've been gearing up for this a while, thinking about this way out there months ago. It's going to be a fun one.”
The Colts travel to play the Broncos at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. It's the kickoff to NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Vinatieri, of course, knows a thing or two about being on the field with the legendary Manning. He was the “enemy” when he first started as a kicker for the New England Patriots, then came to the Colts in 2006 and helped them win their only Super Bowl with Manning at quarterback. Vinatieri's value in that run was never more apparent than when he kicked five field goals in the Colts' 15-6 win at Baltimore in the 2006 playoffs. He hit three field goals in the AFC Championship win over the Patriots.
Vinatieri wasn't surprised to see “Colts at Broncos” for the start of the season, a game that pits two division winners with the underlying theme of Manning facing his old team once again. The Colts beat the Broncos 39-33 when they met in Indianapolis last season, a costly win for Indianapolis since they lost receiver Reggie Wayne to a knee injury in that game.
Wayne's return to the field Sunday will be another big storyline to kick off the season.
“The NFL wants to start the season off with a bang,” Vinatieri said. “There's going to be a lot of great games this weekend and they do that on purpose, just like they schedule those divisional games at the end of the season to make those games meaningful. They know what they're doing.”
NFL kickers naturally last longer than other players, if they're effective enough, because they aren't involved in much contact. Even so, the level of Vinatieri's longevity and production puts him in some rare air.
Some numbers: Vinatieri has 2,006 NFL points, best among active players and fifth in NFL history. He has made 24 game-winning kicks in the final minute of regulation play or overtime. He is one of two players to score more than 800 points with two different teams. Morten Andersen was the other with the Saints and Falcons.
Vinatieri is the only kicker to make field goals in four Super Bowls and play in five.
Even with punter Pat McAfee itching to become a field-goal kicker, Vinatieri shows no real signs of slowing down.
Yes, the excitement level amps up as a new season starts, but his routine and approach has been honed to near perfection. While the rest of the NFL looks at Manning and Luck and the matchups all over the field, Vinatieri reverts to tunnel vision.
“Field goals are field goals,” Vinatieri said. “We know and scout and see who their rushers are, who their superstar guys are (on special teams). But for me, it's more of what I do to get kicks off on time, get high kicks, get everything focused in. It's more about me and what I need to do, personally, than who we're playing specifically.”
If there's a key to Vinatieri's success, it lies in that singular focus.
“As a kicker or punter, you have to zone in,” he said. “We micromanage ourselves. All we're concerned about is how we can do our job better to help our team win.”
That said, Vinatieri welcomes the pressure and spotlight that comes with prime-time games. When the Colts rebooted their roster with Luck and the 2012 draft class, most of the games were 1 p.m. kickoffs.
This season, the Colts have five night games, including their home Monday Night Football opener against the Eagles on Sept. 15 and two late-afternoon games. Of course, if they are important enough, some late-season games could be adjusted to later starts for television.
“The more games you win, the better you do, the more you get those (late starts),” Vinatieri said. “The higher seed you are the year before means you play more night games, more highlight games. That's a good problem to have. The better you do, the harder your schedule is.”
It helps, exponentially, to have a kicker who has been there, done that and is more than capable of doing it all again.