OAKLAND — The two men are linked by a record.
Nobody has ever scored more points than Adam Vinatieri and Morten Andersen.
Vinatieri, who spent the week rehabilitating the groin injury he suffered against Buffalo last week, made a 25-yard field goal at the end of the first half in Oakland on Sunday and passed Andersen to become the NFL’s all-time scoring leader with 2,547 points.
The field goal was set up by 38 yards from running back Nyheim Hines. Vinatieri already had 81 points the day Hines was born on Nov. 12, 1996.
The two men are linked by mutual admiration. Vinatieri, like every kid who was kicking in the 80’s and 90’s, grew up idolizing Andersen. He had a few favorite kickers, a few favorite teams, but Vinatieri remembers thinking of Andersen as the standard by which all other kickers should be measured.
Vinatieri’s feeling never left, not even after he became a peer. He played against Andersen three times — in 1998, 2002 and 2007, Andersen’s final season in the NFL. The first time Vinatieri played against Andersen, the young buck was finally established as New England’s kicker and had been through enough ups and downs to marvel at the marks Andersen had already set.
“I had the privilege to play against him a handful of times in my early, early years and his twilight years,” Vinatieri said. “Meeting him was awesome. He had 2,000-some-odd points, and his all-time stats and scoring numbers, I remember thinking nobody’s ever going to come close to that. It’s just so many points.”
Andersen, for his part, always expected the record to be broken.
A kicking connoisseur who has paid attention to any and every specialist of note for decades, Andersen thought it would be Detroit’s Jason Hanson for a long time. Hanson kicked for 21 years but ended up in third place, behind Andersen and the man he passed, Gary Anderson.
Andersen knew somebody else would be right behind Hanson.
“Listen, Michael Jordan doesn’t have all his records, Peyton Manning’s records were just broken,” Andersen said. “This is part of life, this is part of the intrigue of professional sports. You set the bar the best you can, and then somebody else sets the bar as best he can.”
For a long time now, Andersen has known it would be Vinatieri, a kicker he’s admired from afar ever since the long-time Colt won a pair of Super Bowls for the New England Patriots on the game’s final play, the play by which all kickers are measured.
“I know Adam has gotten to the point total a hell of a lot faster than I did,” Andersen said. “Whether that’s because he was more efficient or because they scored more points, I don’t know. I know his field-goal percentage is a little bit higher than mine is. When you play on successful teams, you’re going to get a lot of opportunities, and if you maximize those opportunities, you’re going to score a lot of points.”
The two men do not know each other well on a personal level, and they haven’t talked in the weeks leading up to Vinatieri breaking the NFL’s field-goal record against Houston, or the weeks leading up to Sunday’s record-breaking kick.
But there is plenty of mutual appreciation. A videotaped message of congratulations from Andersen to Vinatieri – filmed in Andersen’s Hall of Fame jacket and on the golf course – had been in the hands of the networks and the Pro Football Hall of Fame for weeks.
“He’s done it in big games, he’s done it in inclement weather, he’s done it away, home, he’s done it every which way you can do it, and he’s done it over a long period of time, with different teams,” Andersen said. “One of the greatest ever.”
The two men are linked by the city of Indianapolis, on opposite ends of their careers.
Vinatieri, obviously, has been a part of the Colts for 13 seasons now, part of the fabric of the most successful era in franchise history. Andersen’s career began in Indianapolis, a single season at Ben Davis High School in 1977, the year he discovered the sport of football and made a name for himself as the kicker for a team he still believes should have won a state title.
“My first year in the States as an exchange student,” Andersen said. “If it hadn’t been for that year, my American dream wouldn’t have been written the way it was.”
The two men will soon be linked by a Hall.
Andersen broke through an invisible but all-too-impenetrable wall in 2017, joining legendary Chiefs, Packers and Vikings kicker Jan Stenerud as the only pure kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Vinatieri, by all accounts, will be the third, as long as he doesn’t keep kicking into his 50’s and on into perpetuity, a goal Andersen once set for himself and missed by three years.
“Absolutely,” Andersen said. “I don’t know if he’ll be first-ballot. That’s always hard for specialists, that’s never been done, but clearly, he has the resumé to say, ‘Hey, I belong.’ He’s still playing, so he’s going to wait a while. We’ll see how long he wants to play.”
Long enough to put the record out of reach for at least another dozen years or so.