For Colts’ Adam Vinatieri, it’s family, football . . . and chasing records

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Adam Vinatieri kicks a field goal during Colts Camp (WTTV August 9, 2018).

WESTFIELD, Ind. – As Adam Vinatieri has stuck around and stuck around and stuck around some more, he’s experienced a readjustment of what’s truly important to him.

For so long, football was firmly positioned at the head of the line, and why not?

It has provided him with financial security – Vinatieri will have earned approximately $43.6 million after the 2018 season, his 23rd in the NFL – and a platform for individual and collective success. He’s bearing down on several all-time league records, has appeared in five Super Bowls and been part of four world championships, two of which he delivered to the New England Patriots with last-second field goals.

“Football’s been my No. 1 priority for the majority of my life,’’ said Vinatieri, 45 and in his 13th season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Has been. But no longer.

Again, as the years have fallen away and flecks of gray have infiltrated his hair and beard when he opts to let it grow, priorities have changed.

“I always sit there and say, ‘Family first, but football is a damn close second.’’’ Vinateri said. “No disrespect to football, but you’ve got to be a good father and a good husband to make everything work.’’

Vinatieri credits his wife, Valerie, for “holding it all down without me.’’

She’s been there 24/7 for their three children: A.J., 15 and a freshman on the Carmel football team; Allison, 13; and Gabriel, 8.

“She’s unbelievable,’’ Vinatieri said.

As much as his day job allows, Vinatieri has made it a point to balance football and family. Or family and football.

“I love the fact I’ve coached my kids at soccer, my daughter’s baseball, I’ve traveled to those things,’’ he said. “I try to be as active in my family as I can be. You’re very busy for 9 months out of the year, and then we have February, March, April where we get to indulge a ton of time with our family.’’

Vinatieri’s balancing act spilled onto the Grand Park practice fields when the Colts opened training camp last month. He was given permission for A.J. – yes, Adam Jr. – to work as a ball boy until his practices at Carmel commenced. A.J. has dabbled in kicking, but apparently his immediate future is as a defensive end.

“I hate that I can’t spend as much time with my family now, but they can come out and it’s pretty cool that my kid can be on the sideline,’’ Vinatieri said. “I wanted him to come out and see how it is on the sideline of an NFL camp.’’

Father also urged son to tether himself to one of the Colts’ assistant coaches: Robert Mathis.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to go stand next to Rob the entire practice,’’’ Vinatieri said. “I told him he should just bring a notepad and ‘Just take notes the whole time and you’d learn more from him than you can learn in a lifetime by hanging out with him for a couple of days.’’’

Vinatieri’s family-centric approach actually dates back to his days in Foxborough, Mass. with the New England Patriots. It was his desire to begin a family early enough in his career so his kids would be able to understand and enjoy what their dad did for a living. A.J. was born 2003, after Vinatieri’s seventh season with the Patriots.

By the way, a calendar was an integral part of the family-planning process.

“It sounds corny,’’ Vinatieri said, “but we literally planned having our kids in the offseason.’’

Mission(s) accomplished. The three birthdays are in March, April and June.

Fortunately, the confluence of football and family hasn’t left Vinatieri with any regrets.

“I’ve been very, very fortunate to do everything I’ve wanted to do along the way,’’ he said. “Family members, when they get married, I say, ‘Hey, get married when I can go. Don’t do it during camp or do it on a Sunday during the football season.’’’

That hasn’t been the case with everyone.

Frank Reich’s NFL career spans 26 seasons and eight franchises as a player and coach. At one point during his 9-year stint with the Buffalo Bills, he faced a gut-wrenching football-or-family decision.

Football won, and Reich lost.

“I was in season and had a death in the family and didn’t go to the funeral,’’ he said. “I still regret it to this day that I didn’t miss a day of practice to go to grandfather’s funeral.

“I wasn’t the starting quarterback and it was my grandfather. I should have been there. Right, wrong or indifferent, to this day I still regret it.’’

Reich retired after the ’98 season, and an unwavering commitment to his family kept him from accepting offers to immediately transition as an NFL quarterbacks coach. At the time, his three children were 8, 6 and 2.

“I knew what coaching would mean,’’ Reich said, referring to inevitable time away from his family.

While Reich and Vinatieri remain family-centric, there’s the little matter of trudging through the final week of training camp at Grand Park and the upcoming season.

And then there’s Vinatieri’s relentless pursuit of all-time NFL records held by Hall of Famer Morten Andersen.

Vinatieri needs 58 points to supplant Andersen (2,544) as the league’s career scoring leader. Barring the unforeseen and at his current pace (7.4 points per game), that peak should be breached in week 8 or week 9. He also needs 7 field goals to eclipse Andersen’s record (565).

If Vinatieri appears in all 16 games this season – he’s done that in 18 of 22 seasons – he’ll tie Gary Anderson (353) for the second most appearances in NFL history. The record belongs to Andersen (382).

Vinatieri readily admitted he’s motivated by his chase of Andersen, but insisted “the season will take care of itself. My only concern is helping my team try to win games and, honestly, if the season goes like it should, all of that other stuff will take care of itself.

“Eventually it will happen if we stay healthy and kick well.’’

Vinatieri is kicking better the older he gets. Over the last five seasons, he’s converted 89.6 percent of his kicks (146-of-163). That includes 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) on attempts of at least 50 yards.

In Thursday night’s 19-17 preseason win at Seattle, Vinatieri knocked down 33-, 51- and 45-yard field goals.

“He’s still out there kicking 60-yard field goals (in practice) and I don’t know how he’s doing it. I really don’t,’’ Reich said with a smile. “I don’t understand it and I don’t even want to ask him.

“I’m just going to send him out there to kick. He’s just such a unique guy. I love having him on the team because he just embodies the kind of toughness we’re looking for. To do what he’s done for as long as he’s done it, it is absolutely incredible.’’

If you listen to Vinatieri long enough, you’ll quickly discover there might be a 24th NFL year in his future. Maybe even a 25th. In the offseason, he signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract. Incredibly, it was his fifth deal with the Colts.

When will enough be enough for Vinatieri?

“I hope my physical talents last long enough for me to make the decision,’’ he said. “I feel like I can still kick a decent ball right now. At some point your body will fail you.

“I hope I know right before that. I never want to be a liability for my team.’’


You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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