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Vinatieri beats Pats teammates to Hawaii

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- While the rest of the Patriots paraded
through Boston, Adam Vinatieri was nearly half a world away _ and
still wearing his helmet.

New England's standout kicker got a head start on his teammates
at the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, soaking up the sun on the first day of
practice with the rest of the AFC squad.

But no, Vinatieri wasn't avoiding the cold weather at the
massive parade celebrating the Patriots' third world championship
in four seasons. And no, he assured a small group of Pats fans
after practice, this doesn't mean he's planning to leave New
England as a free agent this summer.

He went directly from Jacksonville to Hawaii simply to minimize
the travel time for his pregnant wife, Valerie, and their
19-month-old son, A.J.

"I'd love to be (at the parade), but I have a feeling they did
just fine without me," said Vinatieri, who will make his second
Pro Bowl appearance. "This is the best part of the year. I'm
looking forward to enjoying this week and the next few weeks and
months. This is a great time for my whole family."

The rest of the Patriots' Pro Bowl players were expected to
arrive late Tuesday: quarterback Tom Brady, linebacker Tedy
Bruschi, defensive end Richard Seymour and special-teamer Larry
Izzo. Running back Corey Dillon also was chosen for the squad, but
was replaced by Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis after failing his
year-end physical.

For the third time, Vinatieri's field goals provided the margin
of victory in a Super Bowl victory for the Patriots. Granted, his
22-yard kick midway through the fourth quarter of their 24-21 win
over the Philadelphia Eagles wasn't as dramatic as his previous two
last-second winners, but it was no less satisfying to the nine-year
veteran.

"You couldn't have scripted it any better for us," he said.
"I just wanted to play my small part and make sure all the guys'
efforts were rewarded."

This season probably cemented Vinatieri's status as the NFL's
premier kicker. He led the league with 141 points while making all
but two of his 33 field goal attempts. He has missed just one extra
point in the last three years.

And his teammates love his toughness. The 200-pound Vinatieri is
an excellent tackler when necessary, and his ability to make big
kicks in Foxboro's bad weather have earned plenty of love from fans
and teammates.

As a free agent, Vinatieri is about to find out how much that
love is worth. He will get a raise from his three-year, $5.6
million deal, but if his agent can't work out a new contract in the
next few weeks, New England is expected to designate him as its
franchise player for the second time in his nine seasons.

Vinatieri doesn't expect to leave New England, but he hadn't
really thought about his future until recently.

"I've told my agent that I don't even really want to think
about it unless I have to," Vinatieri said. "I'm confident we'll
get something done. Until something is signed, you never know, but
I really love the town and my teammates. I know I'll be playing
football next year."