‘You ready, old man?’ Holders share their Adam Vinatieri tales

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Oct. 9, 2019. Vinatieri retired on Wednesday.)

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer by making kicks in the snow, in Super Bowls and on uneven turf.

Vinatieri earned all the praise because it was his right foot that put the ball through the uprights. The forgotten player in those situations is the holder. About the only time they were talked about is when they didn’t get the ball down in time, or when the laces weren’t facing outward.

Vinatieri has attempted 701 field goals, 882 extra points and scored 2,633 points during his 24-year NFL career that will end with him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after beginning his professional career playing in NFL Europe. And he has had only eight holders — all of whom were punters — during that span. One of those holders — Jeremy Kapinos — held for Vinatieri in one game during the 2010 season when Pat McAfee served a one-game suspension.

ESPN caught up with the other seven holders to get their stories on what it was like to work closely for the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, kicking for the Patriots and Colts.

Tom Tupa (1996-98)

Vinatieri’s rookie season with the Patriots in 1996 almost didn’t reach a second season in New England after then-coach Bill Parcells told him he was “week-to-week” because of his inconsistent play.

“Adam had a tough battle because the history Parcells had. We didn’t know a kid coming from such a small school (South Dakota State) would be able to handle that. That’s some serious pressure, especially when dealing with Parcells. Coach Parcells enjoyed putting pressure on you. He would stand right next to you, right behind you all the time while you were kicking. He wanted to see how you reacted with that sort of pressure being on you. Like every kick mattered. That was Bill; he’d do things that you wouldn’t be too happy about. But it was all about getting the best out of you. Adam came in and did his job. He took it serious and won out.”

Lee Johnson (1999-2000)

Part of the reason why Vinatieri has been so good throughout his career is due to how competitive he is. He takes it personally every time kickers are brought in, even if it’s during training camp or offseason workouts.

“The amazing thing about Adam during my era was how he could do so good on terrible turf. I was a kicker all through my years in college and partially in the NFL but, man, that guy was masterful at his ability on ground that wasn’t steady. Being a kicker, I would put my finger down and see where I’d have to put the ball and I was always telling myself I don’t know how this guy is going to make this kick based off how bad the turf was. The ball would go through the uprights and I’d be like, ‘Holy s—, how did this guy do that?’ It was spectacular. I always felt horrible because one of the last holds I had for him was a 45-yarder and I could not get the laces around and I kind of spun it right in the middle of the kick and he missed the kick. I felt like I screwed up one of the greatest kickers of all time. He said nothing at all about it. I was more pissed than him.”

Ken Walter (2001-03)

Vinatieri’s career took off during his time with Walter as his holder, including nailing two kicks in a blizzard in the same playoff game and making two game-winning Super Bowl kicks to start the Patriots dynasty. Vinatieri’s work ethic impressed Walter.

“Adam was a tough son of a b—- in the weight room. He was putting up over 350 pounds on the bench. That mentality of loving the weights, that transferred to the field and longevity.

2001 AFC divisional playoff game, Jan. 19, 2002

“With the Raiders game, the rule of thumb when weather is like that, leave the laces where it’s at. If I jack around with the ball in that weather it’s too difficult and it slows the process down. In the snow that day, you couldn’t see anything, we’re guessing where 8 yards was, and we needed every yard possible with it being a 45-yard attempt. When we get to the game winner on the chip shot, the snow was piling up. I love [Oakland coach] Jon Gruden to death, but he made the biggest mistake of his career in my opinion by calling a timeout to allow us to clear the snow. Adam already made one in the snow from a further distance. Then he calls a timeout to give us time to clear a spot. That was too easy.”

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