INDIANAPOLIS — One gray beard appreciates the NFL experience of another.
As Indianapolis Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich was mulling what message he wanted to deliver to his team on Tuesday, he wondered how many playoff games his fellow-bearded kicker, Adam Vinatieri, had played in during a record-setting, 23-year NFL career.
A Saturday trip to Houston for an AFC playoffs kickoff at 4:35 p.m. (EST) will be Vinatieri’s 30th career playoff game and his 15th year in the postseason. Who better to talk to the Colts than the NFL’s oldest player, a 46-year-old legend with four Super Bowl rings?
Vinatieri emphasized the importance of not making this game seem too important when the Colts (10-5) face the Texans (11-5) for a third time this season.
“Don’t let it get bigger than it is,” Vinatieri said on Tuesday, paraphrasing his message. “It’s a football game. It’s the Houston Texans that we’re playing. Obviously the implications escalate when it’s playoff games and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s a football game. It’s the team that plays the best and executes the best and prepares the most and trusts your ability and you do all the right stuff.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s still a football game. Inevitably, playoff games are lost more often than they’re won because the stage gets too big and, inevitably, a play is escalated because of the pressure of it.”
Reich, who lost four Super Bowls as a Buffalo Bills backup quarterback but won a ring last postseason as Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator, knew he had the right guy to give that speech when he texted Vinatieri for his thoughts on Monday night.
“I said, ‘Tell me, Vinny, what you’ve learned,’” Reich said of the text. “The message that he sent me I thought was vintage. We shared that with the team this morning and had Vinny share a few extra thoughts on that, and a lot of wisdom in what he was saying.”
Vinatieri is most remembered for making his greatest kicks in the playoffs. Two last-second field goals won Super Bowl XXXVI and Super Bowl XXXVIII while he was with New England. The latter in 2004 was a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining in the same Houston stadium in which he will play on Saturday.
“This is the good stuff,” Vinatieri said. “It’s a privilege to be in the playoffs, but this is why you play football, to have the opportunity to be one of the teams that are in the show and to try to keep going along and getting a chance to play at the end of the season is what it’s all about.”
As he spoke, Colts rookie linebacker Darius Leonard walked by Vinatieri’s locker and let out a loud “bahhhhhh” in honor of the player regarded as the GOAT, greatest of all time.
“Mr. Clutch” became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer (2,600 points) and set the league record for career field goals (582) this season and will one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Vinatieri has made 56 of 67 field goals (83.6 percent) in the playoffs and all of his 65 extra points. He’s already the league’s all-time postseason scorer with 234 points.
The Colts have 15 players on the roster with playoff experience. This team hasn’t been in the postseason since 2014, when it reached the AFC title game and lost at New England.
If Saturday’s game comes down to the end and the Colts need a field goal to prevail, they couldn’t be counting on a better player in that situation. Turn to the gray beard.
“We earned our spot in the playoffs,” Vinatieri said of the Colts winning nine of 10 games to become just the third team to make the postseason after a 1-5 start. “Now we’ve got to earn the opportunity to continue to play.”