NFL oldies alive and kick­ing

The London Free Press - - SPORTS -

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?”

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