•ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HIS JOB Kickers don't deserve MVPs or any of that stuff. We're not on the field enough. But as far as our impact on winning or losing? We're as important as anyone. You may have five plays in a game, and those five plays are the difference in the outcome. At that last minute, when you have to go in, the guys who have fought all game long are expecting you to do your job.
•ON WHAT GOES THROUGH HIS MIND BEFORE A LATE-GAME KICK I take a couple of deep breaths, tell myself, All right, it's a 40yard field goal, and try not think about anything else. You just can't let yourself think about the crowd yelling and the implications of what you're trying to do.
•ON MINGLING WITH HIS ILK Before a game the other team's kicker is the first person you seek out, run across the field to shake his hand and talk, see how everyone's doing in the family and all that. You develop a brotherhood in a sense. You are always paying attention to what the other guys are doing and what their stats are.
•ON WHY THERE'S A BOND When a kicker's on the field, he's kind of alone on an island--especially when you're trying a kick at the end of a game. Nobody's watching the other 21 guys, just you. We've all felt that. We all know the sensation that on just about every play, you're either a hero or a goat.
•ON LIFE IN PRACTICE In a 21/2-hour practice, the stuff we do with the entire team takes about 15 to 20 minutes total. The rest of the time the kicking and punting guys are off to ourselves, doing drill work, loosening up, refining things. We're a little secluded.
•ON HOW MUCH KICKING HE ACTUALLY DOES I kick 100 balls a day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Then on Saturday there's no kicking, just mental preparation for the game.
•ON CHOOSING HIS POSITION I didn't choose kicking; kicking chose me. I was a quarterback, linebacker, punter and kicker in high school at Rapid City [S.Dak.] Central High. I'm 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, and unfortunately the linebackers [in college] aren't that small, and neither are the quarterbacks. When I went to play at South Dakota State [where he scored 185 points and was also an all-conference punter], I figured kicking was the one position that would let me continue.
•ON HIS FAVORITE STRESS RELIEVERS Playing golf and riding motorcycles. Golf started when I began playing pro football [with the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League in 1996]. It's kind of a rich man's game, and before that I never had money to buy new clubs or play much. I always had a motorcycle growing up. It's just exciting for me, going down the back roads with the wind in my hair.
•ON HUNTING I've gone hunting with my dad, Paul, and my two brothers forever. My father started taking me out as soon as I was old enough to handle the cold. I guess I was five or six. It's harder now because most of the hunting seasons are during football. My family and I try to take one big trip a year. Two years ago we went to Africa to hunt game; next year we're going to do a bear hunt in Alaska.
•ON CONDITIONING In addition to the weightlifting and running everyone does, I do yoga and Pilates. I'm into trying to strengthen my body while at the same time staying as flexible as possible.
•ON GROWING UP A DOLPHINS FAN I didn't get to watch them much because in South Dakota we got the Broncos or the Vikings or the Chiefs games. But being a quarterback, I was a huge Dan Marino fan. Great arm, quick release. It seemed like every year the Dolphins were in the playoffs, even if they didn't always win the big game.
•ON HOW HE'LL SPEND THE OFF-SEASON AFTER PLAYING IN THE FEB. 13 PRO BOWL It's a contract year, so I don't know if I'll be back with the Patriots. We're just going to stay at our off-season home in Orlando and relax as much as we can before the baby comes. [Vinatieri's wife, Valerie, is due to deliver the couple's second child in the middle of April. Son A.J. is 18 months.] Then it's a lot of sleepless nights.
--As told to Amanda Cherrin
VINATIERI, 32, KICKED GAME-WINNING FIELD GOALS IN THE FINAL SECONDS OF SUPER BOWLS IN 2002 AND 2004. THE PATRIOTS HOST THE COLTS ON SUNDAY
"THERE'S A BROTHERHOOD OF KICKERS.... WE ALL KNOW ON EVERY PLAY, YOU ARE EITHER THE HERO OR THE GOAT."
"It's stripped- down rock and roll with a little bit of punk."
--Darren McCarty, My Locked Out Life, page 32
Photograph by Michael J. Lebrecht ii/1deuce3 photography
JIM BOURG/REUTERS (VINATIERI WITH TROPHY)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (MCCARTY)