Monday, February 09, 2004

Sports: The Kicker Didn't Shrug

Many stories on the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots focus on the allegedly altruist commitment to "team" promoted by the organization. A lot of this is just semantic confusion. Successful sports teams do not reward self-sacrifice, but players who act in their rational self-interest. Exhibit A: The Patriots' kicker, Adam Vinatieri, who found inspiration in a very non-altruist source:
His favorite book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. It is an epic novel about a society in mysterious decline, and about the death and rebirth of the human spirit. The book profoundly influenced Vinatieri's feelings about the importance of pride in the work place.

"The book's about commitment," he says. "Whatever you do and whatever you're going to put your name on, whatever you're going to sign as your work, do it to be proud of what you're doing. Do it the best you can and you'll never be disappointed. You'll never have to say, 'What if I had tried a little harder?'"

Such passion for perfection helps explain Mr. Ice-in-His-Veins' occasional meltdowns. You don't want to be near him on the day that a product he just purchased fails to operate. Or worse, a do-it-yourself assembly project with parts missing.

"Or when you're at the airport and your flight is delayed with no explanation," he says. "Or when your flight's been canceled. Or when they lose your luggage."

Some people can roll with these everyday annoyances. Vinatieri cannot. To him, they are an indication that someone didn't put enough pride in his work.

"With our job, everything is done professionally," he says. "Our organization and our coaches expect us to do everything to the best of our ability. And I'm a little bit of a perfectionist in most everything that I do. So when other people don't use the same effort, it makes me angry. I want other people to take just as much pride in what they do, no matter what that is."

Valerie has lost count of the number of times she has seen her husband shake his head and declare, with absolute indignation, "I would never run my business this way!" He knows there are no shortcuts to success, a lesson he learned when he spent summers working on a South Dakota farm owned by his grandfather and uncle.

"I'd be there for three or four weeks, helping them plant and plow and vaccinate cattle," Vinatieri recalls. "It was the hardest month of the year I would spend anywhere. Up at 5 a.m., go to bed at midnight. My uncle would even work later than that and still get up earlier. Even if it rained, you couldn't get out of work because that was a time to fix a fence. There was always something to do."

That hasn't changed. Most kickers spend practice sessions watching and waiting for the special-teams period.

"I go in there and lift weights and run with everybody," Vinatieri says. "Sure, making big kicks to help the team win definitely helps your status on the team. But I want everybody to know that I care about the team as much as anybody."

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