Vinatieri's shot at fifth ring bittersweet

On the surface, it would seem too good to be true.

The kicker missed just two field goals all season. He's about to tie the record for all-time Super Bowl appearances by a player, with six. And he has a chance to become one of only two players in the history of the NFL with five Super Bowl rings, joining Charles Haley.

This is the spot that Adam Vinatieri finds himself in today, although it's not as sweet as it might seem.

Vinatieri -- whose clutch kicks were a huge part of the Patriots' three-championships-in-four-years run -- won't be the primary kicker for the Indianapolis Colts when they face the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7.

After undergoing surgery on his right hip and right knee last summer, he appeared in six games, was 7-of-9 on field goals and then had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in October.

The hope was that Vinatieri would be ready for the playoffs. It didn't work out that way, and now the Colts are sticking with veteran Matt Stover.

When the decision was made earlier this month, Vinatieri said he didn't care for it but promised to be a good cheerleader, stressing that there was no controversy. He maintains that stance today.

"I think that still holds true," he said after the Colts' Friday practice. "The team is in good hands, whether they went with Matt or myself. I was getting over injuries, and when the decision was made, I'd say I was about 80 percent, not all the way back yet. I was disappointed not to be the guy on the field, but I also understand the risk of me not being able to finish could jeopardize the team."

Vinatieri, as he often did in New England, was reluctant to place a large emphasis on his personal situation and preferred to focus on the Colts' team goals. But he did touch briefly on his challenging season.

"Three surgeries on the same limb, that's a tall order," he said. "Your muscles shut down in your leg, which weakens it a little, so you have to work it back up. It was tough. If I had any one [of the surgeries], I would have made it back and been fine, but you compile each of them and the next thing you know, it's a little more than anticipated. It was a trying time for me."

Still, the 37-year-old Vinatieri -- arguably the most clutch kicker in the NFL and whose "Snow Bowl" kick for the Patriots in 2002 against the Raiders is perhaps the greatest of all time -- paints an overall happy picture of his present situation.

"You never take it for granted; I could have never wished to have the opportunity to be in six Super Bowls with the opportunity to win a fifth championship ring. Looking back on it, I'm extremely blessed to play on two very good teams, with great quarterbacks and owners," he said.

"This year, I was fortunate to play in six games, and I've been part of the team as the season went along. It's been a great year for the team. The two losses drew a lot of interest around the league, people asking 'If the starters were kept in, would you be 18-0 at this point?' Who knows? We've all kind of gone beyond that now."

As is often the case when a player is concluding his 14th season, Vinatieri was asked how much longer he hopes to kick in the NFL. He is signed with the Colts through 2010 and shooting for another three to four years after that. He clearly "wants to stay in Indianapolis and hopefully finish my career here."

"Matt Stover is 42 right now and he is still doing it," Vinatieri said. "This has been a trying year, but one nice thing is that the last couple of weeks I've been kicking and I know I'll be back next year and kicking well next year.

"Retirement is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I want to play another handful of years as long as I'm continuing to be successful and helping the team win. I still love it as much as I always have."

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.