NFL oldies alive and kicking
INDIANAPOLIS — Adam Vinatieri saw the fire, the work ethic and the skills right from the start.
Even then, back in 1998, Vinatieri knew Phil Dawson had the traits to make it as an NFL kicker.
Now, almost two decades after New England’s young, established placekicker welcomed his underdog understudy to the Patriots practice squad, the league’s two oldest players will show everyone they’re still alive and kicking in Sunday’s reunion game between Vinatieri’s Colts and Dawson’s Cardinals.
“We’re all old now, I guess,” the greying Vinatieri joked Thursday. “If you added our ages together, we’re probably in our 80s. Upper 80s, I guess.”
The years do add up — just like their stats.
At 44, Vinatieri isn’t just the last active link to NFL Europe or the last active player from the Colts’ Super Bowl runs. He’s also No. 3 on the NFL’s scoring list (2,381 points), No. 3 in field goals (531) and is widely regarded as one of the best clutch kickers in league history.
In 22 seasons, Vinatieri has done everything from making Super Bowl-winning kicks to memorable moments in the snow to tackling Herschel Walker. He’s played for Hall of Fame coaches Bill Parcells and Tony Dungy, as well as Bill Belichick, and called both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning teammates.
Yet he can only remember having one kicker on a practice squad and Dawson took full advantage by soaking up Vinatieri’s knowledge long before he signed with Arizona. In fact, Dawson, 42, seems to have taken a page out of Vinatieri’s playbook when it comes to aging gracefully in football.
“I joke with people it’s the ‘mama plan’ I call it,” Dawson said. “If you eat right and go to bed when you should, good things seem to happen.”
Dawson’s career path was more circuitous, although he is No. 14 on the career scoring list (1,703), 97 points from No. 10. He also is 10th all time in field goals (405).
The 42-year-old got his first glimpse into the harsh reality of pro football by getting cut in Oakland in 1998. A year later, he signed with Cleveland and became a 14-year fixture on a franchise mired in turnover.
In 2013, after playing in only one postseason game with the Browns, Dawson headed to San Francisco, where he made three more playoff appearances. He hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.
But it’s not rankings, numbers or age that keep these two kickers going. It’s the respect they developed during that season in New England and the fact that they are the last active players who started their careers in the 1990s. They just don’t want it to end.
“I just love football and I know that’s weird for a kicker to say,” Dawson said. “Ever since I can remember I wanted to play football. To be my age now and get a chance to still do this, I mean how many guys get a chance to do that?”