Gould, Vinatieri reunite at big game


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

MIAMI — Professional football players live an insecure existence at the best of times, but none so much as kickers.

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The kickers look to make a difference for their teams on Sunday.

The Associated Press

Facts

Super Bowl XLI

· Who: Chicago (15-3) vs. Indianapolis (15-4)

· When: 6:25 p.m. Sunday

· TV: CBS

Scroll through a list of the best kickers in National Football League history and most of them have been rejected somewhere along the way, having had to fight and persevere just for the opportunity to ply their trade.

Just ask the Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri or Robbie Gould of the Chicago Bears.

These days, Vinatieri is known as among the most reliable kickers in the game, with two Super Bowl-winning kicks on his resume as he approaches his fifth NFL title game. Yet when he came out of college more than a decade ago, the only team that wanted him was the Amsterdam Admirals.

"Here I was a South Dakota State (University) kid who had to go to NFL Europe just to get a chance," Vinatieri said. "There's only a certain number of spots in the league and most of those are held by veteran guys who are pretty good."

Gould can certainly relate to that. After finishing his college career at Penn State, Gould signed as a free agent in the spring of 2005 with the New England Patriots, where his competition was Vinatieri.

The Patriots were just coming off their third Super Bowl win in four years and weren't exactly looking to take a chance at kicker. But Gould, a lifelong Patriots fan who considered Vinatieri his idol, opted to sign with them anyway, understanding that his chances of sticking around were very remote.

The Patriots cut him that August. But not before he forged a friendship with Vinatieri and learned everything he could from the veteran.

"I was there for four months and soaked everything up," Gould said. "Adam was a great teacher when I was there. It wasn't like he felt threatened. The job was his, so the thing was to learn to get better.

"I watched everything he did from the weight room to the field. He was a real inspiration. He was my hero, the guy I looked up to because New England was my favorite team," Gould said. "My attitude was just learn as much as you can, be a sponge, soak it all up, learn from the best kicker in the NFL. I knew I'd get another opportunity. It was just a matter of time."

Gould had to wait, but not long.

After New England cut him, he joined the Baltimore Ravens' practice roster, but was cut near the end of September. Unsure of what lay ahead, he went home to Pennsylvania and worked in industrial construction.

The Bears called in October, 2005, inviting him to audition against four other kickers before signing him to a contract. In 2006, his sensational sophomore year included a game-winning kick in overtime in a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks three weeks ago, and will end two weeks from now, when he goes to the Pro Bowl.

Vinatieri said he never doubted Gould would one day find a place in the NFL.

"When he was in New England, we learned a lot from each other," the Pats kicker said. "I learned about being a young kid again and the excitement and energy that comes with that and the drive and the heart.

"Now, if he has a nice game I'll call him. When he had that game-winning kick against Seattle, I congratulated him. I had no idea we'd both end up here."

While Gould is a big part of why the Bears are in Miami this week, Vinatieri has played a big part in the Colts' journey as well.

Signed last off-season to replace Mike Vanderjagt, whose final missed kick in Indy ended the Colts' season last January, Vinatieri has been 11-for-11 during the 2007 playoffs.

"He loves the playoffs. He lives for the playoffs. That's one of the things I've taken from him," Gould said. "If there's a guy I want to be like, it's Adam Vinatieri. I want to be the guy they can count on for big kicks."

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