While Kasay dreams, Vinatieri kicks around a piece of family lore

Patriots turn up volume

Panthers shift indoors


January 30, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- Close calls run in the family of Adam Vinatieri, the New England Patriots' clutch kicker.

Vinatieri is the great-great-grandson of Gen. George Custer's band leader. Custer had left Felix Vinatieri and the band at the Powder River before the general and 276 of his cavalrymen were ambushed and massacred in a legendary battle at Little Big Horn in 1876.

"Only one person -- actually, one thing -- came back, and it was one of the horses," Vinatieri said. "Thankfully for me and my family, they left the band back. So, yeah, I guess it was a good decision."

This season has been far from a storybook one for Vinatieri. He has missed 10 field-goal attempts as well as an extra point. But like his ancestor, Vinatieri has found a way to escape disaster in critical moments.

Fifteen times in eight seasons, Vinatieri has kicked field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime that have won Patriots games.

Vinatieri will be forever known for drilling a 48-yard field goal as time expired in the Patriots' 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl.

His counterpart for this year's game, Carolina's John Kasay, also has a flair for the dramatic. He has kicked four game-winning field goals this season, three from 47 yards or more.

"Adam made the kick we all dream of making," Kasay said. "When you're a kid in the back yard, you envision making that kick to win a Super Bowl. He's already done it. I would like to think if I was in that situation I could do it, too."

Oh, say, can you hear?

Because the Patriots haven't played on the road in six weeks, they had loud music blaring throughout practice, including a few cuts from coach Bill Belichick's friend, Jon Bon Jovi. With a 20 percent chance of rain Sunday, the retractable roof on Reliant Stadium could be closed, raising the noise level.

"We try to make it so we have to fight through the noise and make it a little harder to concentrate," Belichick said.

The Patriots practiced indoors for the second straight day. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who remained probable with a right calf injury, continued to take snaps with the starters and moved well.

"I didn't have any setbacks, so I feel like I'm good and ready to go," Bruschi said.

Wet Panthers

A downpour interrupted the Panthers' practice, forcing the team to finish indoors for a 25-minute walkthrough at the University of Houston. The rain started an hour into the team's outdoor workout.

"It was kind of good, actually," Carolina coach John Fox said. "We got all our pad work done. By the time we finished, we got a little wet.

"We're playing on grass," said Fox, referring to the surface of Reliant Stadium. "We'd rather practice on grass."

Hochuli to be referee

Ed Hochuli was named the referee for Sunday's Super Bowl, along with two members of his regular-season crew, the top-rated in the NFL this season.

It will be the second Super Bowl as a referee for Hochuli, a lawyer from Phoenix. He also worked the 1998 game between Denver and Green Bay and was the alternate last season.

This is the first season officials were rated by crew in an effort to keep units intact for the playoffs. With the hands-on style of the Patriots' secondary, officiating may prove to be a factor.

"It could dictate the outcome of this game," New England cornerback Ty Law said. "It's two teams that will be bumping, grabbing and being physical downfield. We hope the officials call a good game and let us play football."

Security check

Security at Reliant Stadium will be patterned after the other two Super Bowls played since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police officials said.

A fence was built around Reliant Stadium weeks ago to prevent vehicles from driving too close, and air traffic will be forbidden above the stadium. Ticket holders, stadium employees and media will have to pass through security equipment similar to that at airports.

Uniformed and plainclothes police will patrol the stadium while surveillance cameras and machines that analyze air quality will be used as safeguards, officials said. Houston police will spend $1.5 million in overtime pay Sunday.

"We believe the complex will be one of the safest places in the nation," Dennis Storemski, Houston's executive assistant chief of police, said at a news conference. "We will be ready to respond to any incident, whether the most serious or the least."

End zone

Houston Texans running back Domanick Davis was named NFL Rookie of the Year, beating out Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs and three other finalists. The winner was determined by fan voting on the league's Web site. ... Ravens inside linebacker Ed Hartwell was among 21 NFL players who visited Houston hospitals and care centers this week. ... Ravens linebackers coach Mike Singletary will take part in the coin toss with six other native Texans enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ... Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was named the Walter Camp Football Foundation's Man of the Year. The award honors an individual who has been closely associated with the sport as a player, coach or close attendant to the game and has achieved success as a leader.

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