Two steps back, two steps over. Hips square. Foot planted shoulder width from the ball. Inside top of the foot to the bottom quadrant of the ball. Boom.
Kicking doesn’t seem complex. It can even look simple, especially when Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s longest-tenured kicker, is drilling them on an indoor field from 15 yards away.
Vinatieri’s 20-season career has included some of the game’s most memorable field goals — with four Super Bowl rings to show for it. Rams–Patriots Super Bowl in 2001: 20-17, Vinatieri. Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl in 2004: 32-29, Vinatieri. Tuck-Rule Game? Vinatieri.
At 43 years old, Vinatieri is the league’s oldest player, along with one of its most fortunate, having spent most of his career coming onto the field after Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Vinatieri admits he’s seen a lot of players “come and go” since he entered the league in 1996, acknowledging the career longevity afforded to him by his position. Manning could be the next great player to retire on the kicker’s watch, if the rumors are true. The league veterans played together on the Colts for six seasons, and while in San Francisco this week for Super Bowl activities, Vinatieri said that if Super Bowl 50 is in fact Manning’s “last rodeo, the NFL and football will miss one of its greatest players. But he won’t be gone long — he’ll make a great coach or GM.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Vinatieri was in a jersey and mesh shorts kicking field goals at the Super Bowl’s NFL Fan Experience event in downtown San Francisco. For $25-35, fans can try activities like cone drills and throwing Hail Marys with occasional appearances from the pros. As part of a collaboration between a league-affiliated credit card and the Pat Tillman Foundation, Vinatieri’s goal was to kick three successful field goals to trigger a donation of $15,000 to the donation named for late NFL safety who was killed by friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan. No stranger to pressure, Vinatieri drilled them all.
But Vinatieri biggest challenge of the day was teaching me to kick a field goal myself. (While wearing Sperry Top-Siders, because I hadn’t packed football-appropriate footwear for Super Bowl week.) Unfortunately for Vinatieri, I handed him his first whiff of the day. In a half-dozen attempts, I never managed to get the football to catch air.
The method of kicking a field goal is not exactly rocket science, but coordinating your extremities to work together is much easier described than done.
On my first attempt, I took two steps back, two steps to the left. I emulated the weird do-si-do I’ve seen a million times while watching NFL field goal attempts. I knew the slow, diagonal trot to the tee, but as I put my first foot forward I realized I had no idea how to calculate pace to get my left foot — my plant foot — on its mark. As I kicked, the ball took a rough tumble along the fake grass toward the uprights.
“Well, you kicked it straight, so you had your hips facing the right way,” Vinatieri told me, charitably. With more power, it would have had more pop, he said. I deferred to his expertise, but had my doubts.
The next few kicks skewed toward the left side of the field, never making it above a couple feet despite my conscientious effort to give it a harder thwack. As my final attempt rolled a pithy 5 yards diagonally left, I thought, “at least it wasn’t wide right.” No hard feelings, Scott Norwood.
The Pat Tillman Foundation, started by Tillman’s wife Marie, provides scholarships for military veterans in academia. One of the foundation’s current scholars, Reagan Odhner, was at the NFL Experience after her day’s classes at Stanford. Odhner served four years in the Marines with two tours in Afghanistan, the second of which with a female infantry program. As part of that deployment, Odhner worked with community development programs and found a passion for international development.
Upon returning to the United States to begin classes at Stanford, Odhner was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Odhner finished her semester at Stanford then took off the next to focus on chemotherapy. The treatment worked, and Odhner is now back in school full-time studying economics. She is on track to graduate in 2017, and the Tillman Foundation will provide financial assistance until graduation. The Tillman Foundation says on its website the average dollar amount given per student in 2015 was $15,000. Given that amount, Vinatieri’s field-goal challenge should cover the full cost of one year for a Tillman scholar.
Odhner said she did not have much luck with a successful field goal Wednesday either. Understandably, Odhner’s focus has been on her health and education — far bigger priorities than football. Odhner was presented with two tickets to Sunday’s Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, just south of Stanford.
While we spoke about her plans and our failed attempts to successfully get the ball through the uprights on Vinatieri’s watch, a child of about 9 walked up to one of the football tees and paced himself two steps back, two steps to the left. He kicked, he hit, and the ball went straight through the center of the goalpost, nearly to the top of the poles. Vinatieri quickly took notice of the tiny kicker as Odhner and I looked at him in amazement.
Then the kid walked right back to the tee and drilled it again.