Super special

James C. Black
Yahoo! SportsJanuary 31, 2007

MIAMI – Kicker Adam Vinatieri declined to share the Indianapolis Colts' game plan on handling Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester, but he did offer a brief assessment.

"He's as explosive a guy there is and I'm sure we'll lose a little sleep over him," Vinatieri said during the Colts' session at Media Day for Super Bowl XLI on Tuesday.

If Hester is capable of creating sleepless nights, Vinatieri has surely caused recurring nightmares. In a championship tilt on Sunday that features the record-setting rookie returner (Hester) and two fellow Bears Pro Bowl special teamers (Robbie Gould and Brendon Ayanbadejo), Vinatieri is unquestionably the most feared specialist.

Vinatieri owns the NFL record for most postseason field goals made (37) and points (155), and is the only player to have twice converted five field goals in a postseason game. More importantly, he's decided two Super Bowl outcomes with game-winning kicks.

"You just had to bring that up," Bears coach Lovie Smith teasingly said to a reporter who referenced Vinatieri's game-winning field goal as a member of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI when Smith was the defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams. "We just hope we don't put him in that position again."

While his leg and list of accomplishments are sure to get plenty of attention on Sunday, it has been his experience that the Colts have leaned on most this week as many of his teammates are dealing with the hubbub of Super Bowl week for the first time.

"[Wide receiver] Ricky [Proehl] and Adam spoke about the big difference between winning and losing the game," said Colts coach Tony Dungy in reference to messages given to his team. "No one remembers No. 2."

Vinatieri has been on both sides of the equation. As a rookie in 1996, the Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XXXI before losing to the Packers. In fact, he figured prominently into the game as MVP Desmond Howard returned a Vinatieri kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown for the game's final tally of 35-21.

His next three trips resulted in happy endings as the Patriots prevailed each time with three-point victories.

"We're fortunate enough to have a handful of guys who have played for different Super Bowl [teams]," Vinatieri said. "All week long, there are questions being asked and answered.

"Try to stay focused, not let the distractions get in your way, prepare well and play the best that you can."

Clearly, that advice is easier for some to follow than others. While the simplest moments distract or rattle players at any position, Vinatieri consistently remains cool.

"You try to minimize all the pressure and the stress," Vinatieri said. "Take a couple of deep breaths and go out on the field and approach it like it's any other kick.

"As a kicker, you only have a few choice times during a game you're out on the field. I'm not out there 40-60 times like a quarterback or defensive guy, so you have to take advantage of the opportunity."

From the moment Vinatieri stepped on the field with the Colts after departing New England in free agency, he's been creating opportunities for the Colts.

In Indianapolis' preseason opener against the Rams, Vinatieri successfully executed a game-opening onside kick that the Colts recovered at their own 41-yard line. They capped the series with a touchdown.

Later in the quarter, Vinatieri connected on a 53-yard field goal – high and down the middle between the uprights.

"Adam has just been special to us," said Dungy, who had been on the wrong side of many Vinatieri kicks previously in his career. "He came in and provided a sense of credibility."

That credibility and production were evident throughout the year, no moment bigger than when he accounted for all of the team's points during a 15-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional playoffs.

"When the lights are on, it's all focus," Gould said of his training camp teammate with the Patriots in 2005. "Mentally, he's there and ready to go."

And ready to turn what's becoming a routine situation into an opportunity for a fourth championship ring.

"I've been fortunate to be in several of these, but it never gets old," Vinatieri said. "This is why we play. Obviously, all the money and fame is great, but we play football to win games; to be in these types of games.

"This is why we're here and this is quite exciting for me."