Stover, Vinatieri give Colts wealth of experience at kicker

February 05, 2010|By Harvey Fialkov | Tribune newspapers

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — - Colts coach Jim Caldwell knows choosing between % Adam Vinatieri and Matt Stover to kick a potential winning field goal in Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday is like picking between a classic Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.

Both may have plenty of tread on the tires, but they're clutch when it counts.

"We've been blessed to have both," Caldwell said. "I saw a couple of weeks ago both were (nominated) on the all-decade team. … You can't get much better than that."

Caldwell will give the keys to Stover, simply because he doesn't believe that Vinatieri is 100 percent recovered from knee surgery in mid-October, his third operation since last summer, including a hip procedure.

"I'm in the bullpen right now, getting healthier every day," said Vinatieri, the NFL's all-time leader with 42 postseason field goals, including two last-minute, game-winning kicks for the Patriots in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII.

"I could probably go if needed. Obviously, as a competitor you want to be on the field doing your job, but I understand the concerns."

Vinatieri, 37, is bidding to earn his fifth Super Bowl ring - and second with the Colts - to tie defensive end Charles Haley for most ever. But barring injury, any field-goal opportunities will go to Stover, who at 42 will be the oldest player to play in a Super Bowl.

"I see that this team looked through the age and saw my ability and trusted in me," said Stover, who has made 14 of 16 field-goal attempts, including all five in the postseason, since the Colts signed him to replace the injured Vinatieri before Game 6.

"I can help out this team, especially since they have one of the all-time best in Adam."

Stover, fourth in NFL history in points and field goals made, is bidding for his third Super Bowl ring. A mainstay for the Cleveland Browns for five years and 13 more when they moved to Baltimore, Stover made 2 of 3 field goals during the Ravens' rout of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

But on the plane ride to South Florida, Stover was sporting his ring from his idle rookie season with the Giants when they won Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills.

"I was sitting on the sideline with (injured quarterback) Phil Simms and (rocker) Jon Bon Jovi watching the game," Stover said. "It was a good time, and I learned through experience how to handle that game."

"I hurt my quad (in preseason) and could've come off after four weeks and didn't. … Matt Bahr ends up being the kicker and in the third game kicks the winner. And (then-Giants coach) Bill Parcells, if it's not broken he's not going to fix it, so I sat on the bench all year, made my $78,000, was happy to do it and got a ring."

Stover, now practicing in the same building that Parcells is running as the Dolphins' vice president of football operations, has the added motivation Sunday of putting a smile on his mother's face. Tasia, 76, will be watching from her Dallas hospital bed after undergoing life-saving brain surgery last month.

"I know what she wants, for me to kick well and not worry about her," Stover said. "She's watched every game I ever played. She'll be there (spiritually) and I'm happy to kick for her."

Saints second-year kicker Garrett Hartley has made 24 career field goals and is 2 of 2 this postseason, including the memorable game-winning 40-yarder in overtime to beat the Vikings in the NFC championship game.

Compare that with Stover and Vinatieri, who have converted a combined 809 career field goals, plus 65 in the playoffs.

Stover or Vinatieri? Caviar or lobster.

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