It must feel like a long nightmare for New England fans that they can't wake up from. First, Johnny Damon committed blasphemy by leaving the Red Sox to play for the hated New York Yankees. Then, after losing stalwarts David Givens and Willie McGinest in free agency, the unthinkable happened. As first reported by Michael Holley on WEEI, one of Boston's most loved sports figures – Adam Vinatieri – followed in Damon's footsteps by signing with the Patriots biggest rival over the past few seasons, the Indianapolis Colts.
The Vinatieri saga has been going on ever since the start of free agency. It was reported the Patriots offered the clutch kicker a contract that would have made him the highest paid player at his position in the NFL but the contract didn't include any guaranteed money.
If Vinatieri didn't re-sign with the Patriots, the obvious choice for him to land was with his old coach Bill Parcells in Dallas. However, the Cowboys never offered Vinatieri a contract, so it was believed the two teams left in the race were the Patriots and Green Bay Packers.
Vinatieri visited Green Bay late last week but left without a contract. This gave Patriots fans hope that he would re-sign with New England. Then, out of nowhere, the Colts came swooping in and signed Vinatieri to what is being reported as a multi-year deal.
What the Patriots lost on Wednesday was much more than a kicker. Vinatieri – known as probably the best big-game kicker in NFL history – made 19 game-winning kicks in his 10-year career with the Patriots.
Out of those 19 kicks, three will be cemented in the memory of Boston sports fans forever. Vinatieri's 45-yard kick in a driving snowstorm against the Raiders to send the game into overtime isn't just one of the greatest kicks in NFL history, it propelled the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game and eventually the Super Bowl. In that Super Bowl against the Rams, Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal on the final play helped the Patriots win their first Lombardi Trophy. Not to be outdone, Vinatieri beat the Carolina Panthers a year later in the Super Bowl by hitting a 41-yard goal with four seconds left in the game.
Vinatieri's late-game heroics made him an icon in New England. It can be argued that other than Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi, Vinatieri has been the most loved Patriot player over the last decade. That's quite an honor for a kicker. Now, after signing with the Colts, Vinatieri will be considered a traitor and public enemy No. 1 by many Patriots fans.
The Patriots loss is the Colts gain. While Mike Vanderjagt was a very good kicker for Indianapolis, he has been the exact opposite of Vinatieri. The former Patriot had ice water in his veins when the pressure was on but Vanderjagt has struggled when attempting his biggest kicks. He missed a 43-yard field goal in the 2004 season opener at New England and his 46-yard miss against the Steelers in this year's divisional playoff game will never be forgotten by Colts fans.
Now, the high-powered Indianapolis offense gets a kicker in Vinatieri who has made 39-of-43 field goals in domed stadiums over his career. Houston's Reliant Stadium is actually the only indoor stadium where Vinatieri has ever missed a kick. One sour note for Vinatieri and the Colts is they have to play the Texans in Reliant Stadium every year.
While Vinatieri leaves as the most accurate kicker in Patriots history, the team has no choice but to move on. The Boston Herald reported they've already had former Bears and Vikings kicker Paul Edinger in for a visit. The 28-year-old Edinger has connected on 75 percent of his kicks in his career.
For most Patriots fans, Wednesday, March 22, 2006 will forever be remembered as the day when not only one of their local sports heroes left New England, but that he left to sign with one of the Patriots most bitter rivals.
As Bill Belichick always says, "It is what it is." Adam Vinatieri is now an Indianapolis Colt and there's nothing he, the team or Patriots fans can do about it except see what the future holds for everyone involved. Only time will tell if letting Vinatieri go was the right thing for the Patriots organization to do. One thing that can't be denied is the Colts just got themselves one heck of a kicker. Just ask the Raiders, Rams and Panthers.