Boston's icon drain: First Damon, now Vinatieri

Updated: March 22, 2006, 9:12 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Whoa! The news is worse than originally feared. The Boston sports market isn't just bleeding talent, it's on its way to becoming a No Icon zone. Is there anything left to live for?

Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri's Super Bowl XXXVI kick put a downpayment on icon status.

Adam Vinatieri going from the Patriots to the Colts is offensive enough from an aesthetic point of view (Vinatieri to the Packers: Now that's a notion with a certain wind-chill appeal to it), but there's more to it than that. With Johnny Damon suiting up for the Yankees against the Red Sox on Wednesday, the same day Vinatieri was to be introduced in Indianapolis, it's as though all the gods are high-tailing it out of town.

Oh, sure, the Pats still have Tom Brady, and the Red Sox have Curt Schilling (assuming one can attain iconic status attained in a single season). But it's getting thin out there. And more's the pity.

If the best a city can do with its sports teams is win, then certainly the second-best is to matter. The worst of the lot don't win and don't matter, but it is possible to do one without the other. As a function of history, you'd rather be the Cubs than the Texas Rangers. You'd rather have Ernie Banks on your roll of non-winning alumni than, oh, I don't know, Bobby Valentine.

Banks was an icon without winning it all, so imagine what it meant to be Johnny Damon in Boston on a team that busted ghosts. There were a lot of fans who loved Damon for the player he was, but there were perhaps just as many who simply loved what Damon represented. He didn't have to be identified as the best player on that Red Sox World Series-winning team, because for many people he was the face of that team. That's iconic.

Vinatieri is another matter altogether -- he actually won games with his foot. He's easily the most valued kicker of the past decade, and he was larger than life in Boston, not merely for being visibly associated with a winner, but for doing a fair share of that winning himself. As a kicker. It was just ludicrous enough to make perfect emotional sense.

It tells you everything you need to know about Vinatieri that the Colts were willing to front him $3.5 million (part of $7.5 million for the first three years of his deal) and cast off the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Mike Vanderjagt, in order to get him. The Colts don't want accurate anymore, they want wins. They don't want conversion percentages, they want Vinatieri out there with the game on the line.

In other words, they want to do something great. The playoff kick Vanderjagt shanked against the Steelers that would have forced overtime is precisely the kind of thing Vinatieri has made a career of nailing. He won two Super Bowls with field goals. He bashed that 45-yarder through the driving snow to force overtime against the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game, then won it in the OT with another kick. He's just an absurd, clutch winner -- and he is a significant part of the reason the Patriots have been regarded as winners for the past several years running.

Johnny Damon
In 2004, Red Sox fans were lining up to see Johnny Damon.

And, sure, things change. The Pats are becoming a barely recognizable version of themselves thanks to shifting salary demands and their own specific way of doing business -- not chasing Vinatieri with guaranteed money being one example. Still, it's the holes you notice.

Brady is still there, smiling and leading, but Willie McGinest is gone. David Givens took off. The old Patriots, the ones put together by Bill Belichick before he was known as a genius -- they're gone, too, with guys like Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy but a memory.

No team keeps its roster intact in the salary-capped era. That's a given. But when the faces of the franchises start to go, the cut is deeper. That's not money, that's history.

One of the classic things about New England as a sports market is its penchant for institutional memory. You can't help but love a place that still has plenty of fans who'll never forgive Roger Clemens for defecting from the Red Sox. Clemens committed what they see as a sort of ultimate sporting sin: Not understanding why remaining in Boston was the only thing in the world that made sense.

It's hard to imagine they'd similarly begrudge Vinatieri for landing a monster contract at the farther reaches of his career, while going to a domed stadium in Indy in which he is 10 for 10 lifetime as a kicker. Vinatieri, in the end, doesn't take so much of a risk. He's going from a team with Super Bowls in its recent past to a team that wants Super Bowls in its immediate future.

And maybe they'll wish him well, around New England. Maybe they'll spend more time wondering what the Patriots were thinking than what Vinatieri was. Either way, they're suddenly short one more sports icon. Bad day in the Back Bay.

Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at mkreidler@sacbee.com

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