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Veteran NFL Kicker Battles 'Demons' That Can Come With The Job


In the NFL, kicking a football through goalposts is harder than it may seem. It's a precise action done in the face of onrushing defenders and the expectation that every kick will be true. In his more than 20 years in the NFL, Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri has made this tough job seem easy, until this season. And now there's talk that his legendary career may end if his missed kicks keep mounting. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Forty-two-year-old New England quarterback Tom Brady gets all the attention for being the old guy in the NFL who keeps doing amazing things. In fact, Adam Vinatieri, at 46, is the NFL's oldest active player with a Hall of Fame resume of his own.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The Patriots looking for a second Super Bowl title in three years from 41 yards - looks good.


GOLDMAN: Vinatieri won two Super Bowls with his right leg - this game-winner heard on CBS - when he played with Brady and New England. In his 24 years with the Patriots and Indianapolis, Vinatieri has scored more points than anyone in NFL history. He's definitely in the GOAT conversation - greatest of all time - which makes this season so notable.


ADAM VINATIERI: I haven't been hitting the ball as good as I should be.

GOLDMAN: This was Vinatieri Monday after a second straight weekend of confounding missed kicks. So far in this young season, five have failed to split the goalposts. And he admitted there's more to do than tinker with his mechanics.


VINATIERI: I'm going to work a lot this week just to get those demons out so I can go clear-headed and step on the field and just do my job.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So there are demons.

GOLDMAN: Yes, there are, even among athletes with the steeliest (ph) of nerves. John Carney doesn't really like to use the word demons.

JOHN CARNEY: But certainly challenges.

GOLDMAN: During his 23 years as a very good NFL kicker, John Carney went through a couple of what he calls hiccup seasons - too many missed kicks, where the 18 feet, 6 inches between the goalposts seemed a lot narrower. And the challenges were alive and unwell in his head.

CARNEY: You lose a lot of sleep. And the pressure's on to get the fix in place.

GOLDMAN: And get that fix in place quickly - NFL teams are very impatient when it comes to kickers. That can fuel what Vinatieri calls the demons; thoughts like, is my career over? Am I no good anymore? Dr. Cindra Kamphoff is with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She works with NFL kickers.

CINDRA KAMPHOFF: I would describe that we all have, you know, automatic negative thoughts. And as a kicker, it's really essential to not believe everything you think.

GOLDMAN: Which Adam Vinatieri seems to be doing - he says he won't feel any more pressure when he lines up for his first kick this Sunday against Atlanta.


VINATIERI: Obviously, I'd like to get back on the making side. But as far as pressure changing this and that, I don't think it makes much of a difference.

GOLDMAN: On Monday of this week, the Colts' head coach said he had zero concern about Vinatieri. The next day, the team held a tryout for six kickers just in case.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on