Legendary kicker Adam Vinatieri retired from football after 24 seasons this Wednesday, wrapping up the third-longest career in NFL history. The 48-year-old played 10 seasons with the Patriots and 14 with the Colts and is the NFL’s all-time leading scorer.
Vinatieri is the most beloved special teams player of his generation, but is he the greatest kicker in league history?
Morten Andersen and Jan Stenerud are the only two athletes in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played exclusively kicker. Assuming that Vinatieri joins them in five years — which he most certainly will — there will not be many kickers that can claim to be better than the New England icon.
Adam’s really, in my mind, the best of all time.Bill Belichick
The Patriots’ success over the past two decades is usually credited only to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but there would be no dynasty without Vinatieri. He is the only player to kick two Super-Bowl-winning field goals: a 48-yarder in 2002 and a 41-yarder in 2004.
The Patriots would not have even made it to the 2002 Super Bowl without Vinatieri. He kicked a 45-yard field goal to end that year’s AFC Divisional Round to overtime and booted in another to seal the win — with five inches of snow on the ground. At the time, Belichick called it “by far the greatest kick I have ever seen.”
Belichick doubled down on his praise this Thursday, noting how Vinatieri’s calmness in high-pressure situations helped set a tone for the entire Patriots dynasty.
“Adam’s really, in my mind, the best of all time,” Belichick said. “His consistency, his ability to handle clutch situations and make the biggest kicks and just the longevity of his career, I mean it was a quarter of a century and the consistency is just remarkable.”
Adam Vinatieri retires with an impressive stat line that reflects his consistency and skill in addition to his longevity.
Points: 2,673 (1st all-time)
Field Goals Made: 599 (1st)
Extra Points Made: 874 (2nd)
Field Goal Percentage: 83.78% (25th)
The main argument against Vinatieri’s status as the best ever is his field goal percentage. While he was never as accurate as modern-day greats like Justin Tucker (90.65%) and Robbie Gould (86.58%), those players have yet to prove they can maintain their skill level as they age. Vinatieri’s 96.8 field goal percentage in 2014 led the league and was the best ever by a player over 40.
More importantly, Vinatieri unseated Andersen as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer while playing one fewer season. Though some active kickers (led by Stephen Gostkowski) are on pace to break the record again, they are playing in an era of high scoring and constant extra point attempts. It is unlikely that anyone will match Vinatieri’s sheer staying power and universal respect.
Image courtesy of Michael Conroy/Associated Press