Patriots coach Bill Belichick opened his first news conference of OTAs with a tribute to longtime kicker Adam Vinatieri, who announced his retirement Wednesday after 24 NFL seasons.
“Adam’s, really, in my mind, the best of all time,” Belichick said Thursday morning. “His consistency, his ability to handle clutch situations and make the biggest kicks, and just the longevity of his career — you know, it was a quarter of a century — and the consistency is just remarkable.
“It was such a pleasure to be with Adam, even from his rookie year in 1996 to then when I came back, he was right in the prime of his career. He made so many big kicks. We were in so many close games during the time when he was here and I was the head coach.”
Vinatieri, who went undrafted out of South Dakota State in 1996, spent his first 10 NFL seasons in New England. He proved to be a critical part of the beginning of the Patriots dynasty, knocking down game-winning kicks in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII.
“We were in so many close games that his ability to consistently put points on the board was incredibly valuable,” Belichick said. “Two game-winning kicks in Super Bowls, it just doesn’t get any bigger than that. One thing with Adam, he never felt that, he never felt the pressure of the moment.”
Belichick lauded Vinatieri’s pair of Super Bowl-winning kicks for their degree of difficulty, noting the strength of Carolina’s field-goal rush unit and the distance of his 48-yard attempt against the St. Louis Rams. But, in Belichick’s eyes, the best kick of Vinatieri’s career — and possibly of all time — came in an earlier round of the postseason in 2002.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in a divisional-round playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, Vinatieri, amid snowy conditions, converted a 45-yard field goal to tie the score at 13 and force overtime. Vinatieri would go on to also kick the game-winning 23-yard field goal during the overtime period.
“The first kick in the Snow Bowl to tie it has to go down as one of the greatest kicks of all time, if not the greatest,” Belichick said. “I mean, the conditions were very difficult. It was cold. There was some wind. But more importantly, there was 5 inches of snow on the ground.
“The depth of the snow, the length of the kick, the conditions, to just make that kick in practice with no anything would have been a great kick. To do it in the pressure that he had and the game conditions and all, to me, I thought that’s the best kick I’ve seen, in person or on film.”
Vinatieri finished his NFL career with a record 2,673 points and 599 field goals. He is the only player in league history to eclipse 1,000 points with two teams, scoring 1,158 with the Patriots and 1,515 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Over the course of his career, Vinatieri made 29 game-winning kicks and won four Super Bowls.
“Adam was really, really special,” Belichick said. “I’m sure we’ll place him in the Hall of Fame in five years. That’s where he should be.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.