(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the Brad Seely interview, click on the following attachment:Ep 63: Brad Seely Joins To Talk Adam Vinatieri, Special Teams, And More | Spreaker)
Shortly after Adam Vinatieri announced his retirement earlier this year, New England coach Bill Belichick called him “the greatest kicker” in the history of the NFL.
It’s hard to argue.
Vinatieri is the game’s all-time leading scorer. He was a four-time Super Bowl champion and a three-time All-Pro, all-decade choice and member of the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. Moreover, he set an NFL record for most consecutive field goals (44), lasted 24 years and made several of the most important kicks of all time -- including two that won Super Bowls and another in a blizzard that launched the Patriots’ dynasty.
Now the question: As arguably the best kicker in NFL history, will he be a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
At any other position, that wouldn’t be an issue. But as a kicker, there’s no certainty, mostly because voters are slow to act on specialists, with only three in Canton -- two kickers (Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen) and one punter (Ray Guy).
So how do you make the case for Vinatieri? We asked former coach Brad Seely, New England’s special-teams coordinator 1999-2008 on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, and he had no trouble.
“Sometimes,” he said, “stats are great. And I know you’ve got to look at those as voters in the Hall. But number one, I would go on longevity. How long he played. I would also remark about where he played. His first ten years in the league (New England), terrible place to kick, OK? And then I would talk about the magnitude of his kicks, which I think separates him from all the other kickers.”
He’s right about that. In the 2001 playoffs, Vinatieri nailed an improbable 45-yard field goal in a blizzard at Foxboro to send a divisional game vs. the Raiders into overtime. The wind was swirling, and field conditions were miserable. Yet Vinatieri made the kick, one that Belichick termed “the greatest” ever, to send the game into overtime.
Then he hit a 23-yarder to win it.
Three weeks later, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl on – what else? – a last-second 48-yard Vinatieri field goal to upset St. Louis. And two years after that, he reprised that performance, hitting a 41-yarder with four seconds left to beat Carolina.
“Even in the other Super Bowl we won we won against Philadelphia (Super Bowl XXXIX), he kicked a field goal late in that game to put us ahead,” said Seely. “Now it wasn’t a deciding kick, but every one of those Super Bowl wins (with Vinatieri) was a three-point game. And it was because of Adam.
“I don’t know if you can say that about any other kicker; how much of an impact he had on those big games. I don’t know that we would’ve been there without him. In that snow game, he had to kick the one. And then, later in the game -- I know it was shorter -- but he still had to kick on that field to win the game.”
Vinatieri will certainly be in first-ballot conversations when he becomes eligible for the Hall’s Class of 2025, but history says it may not happen. Granted, Stenerud was elected on his first try in 1991, but he was the only pure specialist in Canton for five decades – or until Guy arrived in 2014, as a senior finalist in his 24th year of eligibility.
And he was a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.
Then Andersen was elected in 2017 in his fourth try as a finalist. Like Vinatieri, he was the game’s all-time leading scorer. Unlike Vinatieri he was a two-time all-decade choice. Yet it still took him five years of eligibility to make it.
So can Vinatieri break that trend as a first-ballot choice?
“That’s where I would put him," said Seely, "because of longevity, where he kicked and the kicks that he made. I think that’s what separates him from (others), and I’ve kicked guys that were tremendous kickers. And maybe those guys … Phil Dawson is one, those kind of guys ... could have done those things in those moments. But they never had those opportunities.
“Adam did, and he came through. And that’s what you’re looking for out of your kicker: Come through for us, man, because when we need you.”