Sports Outside the Beltway

Mike Vanderjagt, Idiot Kicker, Key to Cowboys’ Hopes

Greg Garber is right:

Vanderjagt is absolutely, certifiably the most accurate field goal kicker in the history of the National Football League. His success rate (.8745) is nearly four percentage points better than the second-best kicker, Phil Dawson of the Browns.

And yet, when Vanderjagt’s career epitaph is written, two words will loom larger than all others: Idiot Kicker.

Yet, he’s a multi-millionaire in a league that suddenly realizes the value of kickers.

There was a time, not so long ago, when kickers were outcasts in the NFL. They were undersized, finesse-oriented specialists in a smash-mouth man’s game. Kickers, even within the context of a team, weren’t considered real football players. But coaches have long known that special teams can determine the outcome of just as many games as offense or defense. Consider the recent results of Week 6, where, appropriately, six games hinged on the performance of placekickers:

• The Cardinals’ Neil Rackers, who set an NFL record last season by kicking 40 of 42 field goals, missed a 41-yard field goal with 53 seconds left. Arizona — which once led by 20 points — lost to the Chicago Bears 24-23.

• Seattle’s Josh Brown kicked a 54-yard field goal as time expired to give the Seahawks a 30-28 victory over the Rams.

• The Saints’ John Carney kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired, giving New Orleans a dramatic 27-24 victory over the Eagles.

• Jason Hanson’s 29-yard field goal was the difference in Detroit’s first victory of the season, a 20-17 win over Buffalo.

• Rob Bironas kicked three field goals — including a 30-yarder with 5:11 left to play — to carry the Tennessee Titans to their first victory, 25-22 over Washington.

• Two field goals by Mike Nugent ultimately made a difference in the Jets’ 20-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

No wonder they’re paying kickers like CEOs. The Colts, who passed on Vanderjagt in the offseason, signed the Patriots’ three-time Super Bowl champion Adam Vinatieri to a contract that featured a signing bonus of $3.5 million and an average salary of $2.5 million over the next three years. The Vikings signed Packers placekicker Ryan Longwell to a five-year contract worth $10 million and three weeks ago the San Diego Chargers locked up Nate Kaeding — beginning only his third NFL season — for five years with a $12.2 million deal, $3.5 million of it guaranteed.


With the 2006 NFL salary cap at $102 million and 53 players on each roster, you can argue that — based on their impact — kickers are still underpaid.

“The devil’s advocate will say we don’t really work a whole lot,” Vanderjagt said. “You know, we stand around for an hour and 45 minutes out of a two-hour practice. But we get paid to make plays on Sunday. Field goals are definitely deciding more games and more and more teams are realizing that.

Certainly, the Cowboys are among them, after losing three games last year because of going the street free agent route on kickers.

Enter Vanderjagt, who is as decorated as a placekicker can be. He is one of only four placekickers to go an entire season without missing a field goal, going 37-for-37 in 2003 with the Colts. That was part of his NFL-record 41 consecutive field goal run. Vanderjagt is the Colts’ all-time leading scorer, with 995 points and has scored 100 points in each of his first eight seasons. He also has 11 game-winning field goals in the last 15 seconds of a game.


Vanderjagt could maintain his lead as the league’s most accurate kicker through the end of his career. For one thing, he has a comfortable margin over Browns’ kicker Dawson. For another: He enjoyed the indoor safety and comfort of the Colts’ RCA Dome and Texas Stadium, though it has an opening in the roof, keeps most of nature’s elements out.

Vanderjagt says he is happy in his working environment, which is something he hasn’t experienced in some time.

“To this day, I have not received any verbal thrashings for missing field goals,” he said. “When I met Coach Parcells for the first time, he said, ‘I don’t want to screw you up. I’m going to let you do your own thing.’ I wasn’t pushing the panic button.

“I keep telling him, ‘You’re the head coach and you’ve got a lot on your mind. The field goal kicker shouldn’t be one of them.’”

Thirty minutes after a lengthy phone interview, the phone rang again.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s Mike Vanderjagt.

“Hey, I just wanted to mention that my field goal percentage is actually better outside than it is inside. There’s a perception that I’m more of an indoor kicker. It might be just half a point, but you should point out that I’m better outside.”

Heh. So far, at least, the Cowboys haven’t lost any games this year owing to crappy kicking. (Crappy quarterbacking, on the other hand. . . ) I’ll take an Idiot Kicker that makes ‘em over a smart one who misses every time.

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It’d be unwise to rely on a Vandershank in the playoffs.

Posted by John Gibson | October 20, 2006 | 12:51 pm | Permalink

WOW! You couldn’t ever be more wrong!

Posted by Mario Magana | December 5, 2006 | 10:44 am | Permalink

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