Adam Vinatieri won the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots. But he could have been the scapegoat if they had lost.
"Everybody wants to be a kicker except for on Sunday," he said. "Obviously all week long in practice we don't do nearly as much on the field. We're not sweating as much. We're not bloody as much, except for on Sunday when the game's on the line. They're all standing on the sidelines saying, 'I hope he makes this, but I'm sure glad I'm not the one out there kicking it.' "
Especially not with several hundred million people watching.
Vinatieri's time came as the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers were tied, 29-29. There were only a few seconds left in the game.
"You take your steps back, and it almost seems like everything slows down a little bit," Vinatieri said. "You're not aware of the noise and the crowd and the flashbulbs going off and that type of thing. You're more concerned about the hold and the kick."
Said Vinatieri: "I felt like I hit it pretty well. When I saw it going down the middle, it was just time to jump around and act like a fool at that point I guess."
It was a twice-in-a-lifetime moment for Vinatieri. He booted in the game-winning kick two years ago in another Super Bowl, again with seconds left on the clock.
"If he continues at this pace, he will be established as the greatest kicker of all time, at least in regard to making clutch kicks. He just has an astonishing résumé for someone who is so young in his trade," said Bob Ryan, a sports writer for the Boston Globe.
Two years ago in the playoffs, the Patriots' season was on the line. It was snowing, and the goal posts were barely visible.
"My first and foremost thing was, 'Don't fall down, Adam.' It was 45 yards and I probably kicked it 46 yards," Vinatieri said.
His kick tied the game, and his team won it in overtime. He said it's the game he'll always remember. Even football legend John Madden was impressed with Vinatieri's achievements.
"Two of the greatest kicks I've ever seen in my life," Madden said.
There are times, say coaches, if the team is doing everything right, when the kicker is insignificant. And there are times when he is indispensable.
One time during his rookie year in the NFL, after kicking off, Vinatieri was suddenly the only man left between the Dallas Cowboys and the goal line. Somehow, he managed to tackle Cowboys star Herschel Walker.
"I don't how it was God gave me 10 seconds of speed at that point because I'm not nearly as fast as I was on that one play," Vinatieri said. "I remember Coach Parcels saying to me there shortly after, 'You're more than just a kicker to this team, now you're a football player.'"
Pivotal Point in Life
Vinatieri, 31, is the married father of a 7-month-old baby, Adam Jr., who is already wearing his dad's No. 4.
Raised in South Dakota, Vinatieri was good at football but had trouble reading. A special education teacher taught him how to read and gave him a sense of confidence as a result.
"I think that was kind of a pivotal point in my life where you can use that as an excuse to not move forward, or you can use it as a stepping stone and say if I can get over this there's nothing that's going to be able to slow me down," said Vinatieri.
Confidence has served him well.
"The success of your team and the season and your career and everything kind of lays on that one kick, and that's the nature of the beast. I guess you have to embrace that and not be afraid of it."