FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – For all the talk about the Colts' considerable advantage in the Super Bowl experience category, the fact remains that their most experienced postseason player isn't likely to see the field Sunday.
For all the concern over Dwight Freeney's ankle -- and it's undoubtedly justified -- there's been precious little air time devoted to another body part that could have proven just as important to Indy's title hopes.
Adam Vinatieri should have been one of the biggest stories of the week: The most clutch kicker of his generation (if not of all time) appearing in a record-tying sixth Super Bowl trying to win one for the thumb.
But instead of sitting at a riser with a loudspeaker booming his words to a throng of rapt reporters, Vinatieri is sitting at a table with a rookie punter, a backup quarterback and three writers -- all trying to delicately broach an uncomfortable subject.
Barring something unforeseen, Vinatieri will be a spectator Sunday, the victim of a midseason arthroscopic knee surgery from which he still hasn't fully recovered. So should Vinatieri tie former 49er and Cowboy Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl rings won with five, it won't be because of an unprecedented third Super Bowl-winning field goal off his right foot.
"It's a bittersweet thing for me, obviously," Vinatieri said. "I'm extremely happy for our team, happy to be here again and have the opportunity to experience this again. But obviously as a player and a competitor you want to be a guy out there playing, not cheerleading."
The Colts were certainly hoping Vinatieri was going to be well enough to leave his pom-poms back in Indiana, going so far as to carry two kickers -- Vinatieri and midseason replacement Matt Stover -- on their 53-man roster in anticipation of Vinatieri being able to return to the starting lineup.
But after Vinatieri came back in Week 16 and missed an extra point in his first game action in 11 weeks, the Colts decided they couldn't wait any longer for their star kicker to round into shape and head coach Jim Caldwell named Stover the starter for the playoffs. While Vinatieri was disappointed with the decision, he says he both understood and supported it.
"You definitely don't want to let the team down if you're not ready to go," Vinatieri said. "I told them I'd support any decision that they made. Matt's done a great job all year long and has played very well. It made sense. A healthy Matt is better than a questionable Adam."
That's true. But a questionable Adam can still contribute to Indy's Super Bowl efforts, even without putting on the pads.
You don't go to five Super Bowls -- four with the Patriots (1996, 2002, 2004 and 2005) and one with the Colts (2007) -- without picking up a pointer or two about how to prepare for the big game. Likewise, you don't hit two of the biggest field goals in Super Bowl history -- last-minute, game-winning kicks against both the Rams and Panthers -- without learning how to handle the pressure of the sport's biggest stage.
Indy's youngsters presumably will benefit from the wisdom of Vinatieri's experience.
"I think one thing I tried to convey to them is yeah, the lights are brighter and the people are cheering louder and there's more things for the winner of this game," Vinatieri said. "But ... at the beginning of the game, once the coin is tossed, it's just a football game. It's just a bunch of guys that are going to go out there and play their best and the team that plays their best ends up winning."
As Colts rookie punter Pat McAfee said, "Obviously, I'm lucky to have Vinny who's been to 100 Super Bowls."
"He's obviously one of the most clutch human beings on the planet," McAfee added. "I asked him about those kicks probably 10 times when I first got here. 'What was it like, man? What was it like?' Now it's just kind of like one of those things that's understood -- that he's the man. He just looked at it like it's his job. That's the way you have to look at it. It's just another game. That's the way I'm going to continue to look at it."
As for Vinatieri, for the most part, he's trying to look at his sixth Super Bowl in much the same way he viewed the previous five.
"It's a blessing any way you look at it," Vinatieri said. "If I'm not on the field, I'm still going to enjoy it."