INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL has had 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck and 39-year-old Peyton Manning retire in the past 10 days. But 43-year-old Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is thinking differently. The oldest player in the NFL said he plans to continue playing until he’s at least 45 years old after signing a two-year contract with the Colts.
“Proof is the product that you put on the field,” Vinatieri said. “I still enjoy the game as much as I ever have. Obviously it’s a statistics game. We get judged on how we do on the field and hopefully, I think, the last couple of years I’ve proven to myself and to everybody else that I can still get it done and I’m not too old yet.”
Vinatieri’s right. He can still get the job done. He made his final 25 field goal attempts after missing his first two last season. And to take it further, Vinatieri is 55-of-58 on field goal attempts in the past two seasons.
The locker room hadn’t completely cleared out after the Colts’ final game of the season at Lucas Oil Stadium on Jan. 3 when Vinatieri said he planned to return for a 21st season. The kicker’s contract negotiations weren’t that easy, though. The holdup in getting Vinatieri’s extension done was that he wanted a multi-year deal.
Vinatieri would join seven other players who played until they were at least 45 years old if he finishes out his contract. Vinatieri (2,251 points) heads into next season third in career points scored behind Morten Andersen (2,544) and Gary Anderson (2,434).
“I enjoy running out on that field in front of all of our fans and putting on that helmet and being part of this team and just being in the locker room things,” he said. “Obviously it happens to everybody. I look at some of the greatest players that played. At some point it has to come to an end, but I felt like the past two years and where we were at the end of the season, I felt like I could still continue on. Will that change years down the road? Sure. ... It passes us all by at some point, but I don’t think I’m there yet.”
Vinatieri said he doesn’t have the freedom to eat what he likes to as much or lift as much weight as he did early in his career because he's older. The strength in his leg is the same, but it takes his body longer to recover. That’s why Vinatieri only kicks every other day in practice, which allows him an extra day of recovery.
“Do I still like a night out and having dinner and eating a couple extra slices of pizza? Sure, we all do. I know I do that as well,” Vinatieri said. “But I pay a lot more attention now at the nutrition and trying to get enough rest. … I feel, other than missing a handful of games a couple of different times I’ve been, knock on wood, I’ve been pretty healthy over a 20-year career, and I don’t know why that should change just because of age. I think if I take care of my body it should continue to work the same way.”
Vinatieri has a luxury that not every kicker is fortunate to have. Punter Pat McAfee handles kickoff duties, which saves some wear and tear on Vinatieri’s right leg during the season.
“I don’t for sure know how it would have affected me if I would have continued to kick off the last six years,” Vinatieri said. “It gets down to the number of reps again. I have about half as many reps when I’m not kicking off anymore, so it allows me quicker recovery and all that. Pat does such an amazing job. We’re very fortunate to have him. I’m very fortunate to have him as a teammate.
“I think he enjoys being out there and making tackles and showing off his abilities. It’s a win-win. I know it’s a win for me and I think he enjoys it, too, so I think it’s a win for everybody.”