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Almost 41, Colts’ kicker Vinatieri not showing signs of losing touch

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INDIANAPOLIS — Being the only 40-something in a locker room dominated by youthful energy has been known to isolate a professional football player.

As if being a kicker didn’t accomplish this on its own.

Eighteen-year NFL veteran Adam Vinatieri is cut from a different cloth. In a figurative sense, it’s the kind used to make the yellow blazers presented to members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 25 days the Indianapolis Colts’ Mr. Automatic celebrates birthday No. 41.

He is 33 months the senior of the team’s second-oldest player, backup quarterback and fellow graybeard Matt Hasselbeck, and almost two decades older than left guard Hugh Thornton, Indy’s youngest starter.

Yet rarely, if ever, has Vinatieri been better.

Sunday’s five-field goal performance in a 22-14 victory against visiting Tennessee was Vinatieri’s latest display of right-footed excellence.

His shortest field goal measured 37 yards; the longest, 49.

Among the highlights of where the South Dakota native stands historically, consider Vinatieri has now:

Scored at least one point in 156 of the past

157 games.

Became the second player in league history to total 800 points with two different franchises (Ben Davis High School product Morten Andersen was the first with New Orleans from 1982-94 and later two stints with Atlanta).

Moved into the No. 7 spot in career field goals with 439, while also sliding into the fifth spot all-time in successful kicks between 40-49 yards (122).

Converted 26 of 29 (.897) field-goal opportunities this season, including 18-of-19 accuracy between 30-49 yards.

Split the uprights on

an amazing 83 percent of

his career field goal tries (439 of 529).

This is merely scratching the surface. Vinatieri

could slam the brakes on

his football career tomorrow and still be recognized as one of the all-time greats at his position.

But don’t anticipate retirement any time soon.

Though flecks of gray speckle his otherwise dark hair and facial stubble, Vinatieri has no immediate plans to call it a career.

And no matter how deep into his 40s he continues to draw an NFL paycheck, the respect he’s earned having kicked in six Super Bowls and two Pro Bowls is unparalleled for a kicker.

At one point following Sunday’s win, a teammate attempted to throw Vinatieri off his game as he was being interviewed by shouting, “Vinny, you’re my hero.”

Vinatieri smiled, the veteran kicker never once verbally breaking stride.

“You know what, guys gave me some guff early in the year (about age), but this locker room and most locker rooms that I’ve been a part of are awesome,” Vinatieri said. “Guys give each other a hard time, but there’s a lot of respect and a lot of love for each other.

“When they’re giving me a hard time for being an old guy, I know they’re doing it with a smile on their face.”

As well they should. Hard telling where this Colts team would be without him.

Vinatieri has booted at least one field goal in 10 of

12 of Indianapolis’s games this season. He’s connected on two or more in all but

two and is 23 of 23 on point-after opportunities.

With 101 points this season Vinatieri is on pace to finish the regular season with 134 points.

His personal standard is 141, which he tallied in 2004 with the New England Patriots.

Vinatieri doesn’t aspire to become the next Andersen, the George Blanda of his era or anything of the sort. Andersen retired at age 47, and Blanda retired at 48. But it is conceivable Vinatieri could still be knocking through 47-yarders at age 44 or 45.

“I don’t ever put a timetable on any of it. I always say as long as I’m feeling healthy and I’m an asset and not a liability to my team,” Vinatieri said.

“There are so many good kickers out there, I’m sure they’ll let me know when my services aren’t needed. But I’m feeling pretty healthy and feeling pretty good and hitting the ball alright, so I’m going to keep going if I can.”

Mr. Automatic

Name: Adam Vinatieri

Job: Indianapolis Colts kicker

Age: 40

Height: 6 foot

Weight: 208 pounds

Born: Yankton, S.D.

High school: Rapid City Central (1991)

College: South Dakota State (1995)

Draft status: Undrafted in 1996 NFL Draft

Did you know?: Finished as South Dakota State’s career scoring leader with 185 points . . . Also punted his final three college seasons with an average of 43.5 yards as a senior . . . Graduated from the same high school as former University of Nebraska and Baltimore Colts defensive tackle John Dutton.

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