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Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 07, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts senior writer John Dudley
Some athletes possess out-of-this-world ability. Others are simply living in their own world.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, new Cowboys kicker Mike Vanderjagt is quoted as saying: "Michael Jordan missed game-winning jump shots, Tiger Woods missed putts. Does that mean they're not as good as you think they are?"
Since likening himself to two sports deities wasn't nearly enough sacrilege, he went on to proclaim: "I'm the best kicker in the history of the game regardless of whether I missed my last kick or not, and that's the way I look at it."
You may recall that Vanderjagt did, in fact, miss his last kick. And it was kind of an important one. With Indy trailing by three points in the waning seconds of a divisional playoff game against Pittsburgh, Vanderjagt missed a 46-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.
Actually, "missed" is putting it mildly. He came closer to kicking the ball into the tunnel at the corner of the field than he did to putting it between the uprights. The Steelers claimed a 21-18 victory and soon went on to win Super Bowl XL. Vanderjagt found that his extra-large collar was strangling him in the clutch again – and soon turned in his No. 13 Colts jersey.
Given his indelible public failure (his post-choke helmet toss is shown here), Vanderjagt's lack of humility is astounding. It could only happen on Planet Vandy, where a delusional kicker can become asphyxiated by the noxious fumes of arrogance.
It's true that he holds the NFL record for field goal accuracy, having converted 87.5 of his attempts. But to be considered "the best," you need to make them when they matter the most. Vanderjagt regularly doesn't. That's why Indy has replaced him with former New England kicker Adam Vinatieri, whose 45-yarder in a blizzard and two Super Bowl-winning field goals have earned him a reputation as the most clutch kicker in NFL history. But even with his unprecedented success, Vinatieri has never claimed the title of "best kicker in history" for himself.
Vanderjagt's assertion (emphasis on the first syllable) is the equivalent of calling Arizona's Kurt Warner the best quarterback in the history of the game because he ranks first in career completion percentage (65.68). No rational person would make that claim, least of all Warner. Yet Vanderjagt has no problem placing laurels on his own frosted-tipped head and medals of glory around his own phlegm-filled neck.
By the way, current St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, another product of the Rams' precision passing game, has moved into second place on the all-time list with a career completion percentage of 65.02 (minimum 1,500 attempts). If he wants to profess "I'm now the second-best ever," Jason Sehorn would be happy to conduct the interview.
Vanderjagt, meanwhile, would be hard-pressed to find many supporters. In recent years, he has been called an "idiot kicker" (by former Indy teammate Peyton Manning), "Vanderjerk" (by New England safety Rodney Harrison) and "Vandershank" (by nearly everyone else, especially the Cold, Hard Football Facts). With such a distinctive name, the variations are nearly endless. Dick Vitale could declare him a "Viper Vandy." Tom Jackson could say he got "VanderJAGT UP!" Smooth-talking newscaster Ron Burgundy, a Cold, Hard Football Facts favorite, could tell him to "Stay classy, Vandy A-hole."
Regardless of how he is addressed, Vanderjagt does not occupy the same solar system as the sporting elite. Comparing him to Jordan and Woods is, in itself, ludicrous. But for Vanderjagt to be the one drawing the parallels is utterly unconscionable.
For an indication of how sadly Vanderjagt pales in comparison to Jordan and Woods, we decided to break it down into the following categories:
Jordan and Woods are complete athletes who excel at every aspect of their chosen sport.
Jordan didn't just hit jump shots; he penetrated to the basket, made free throws, rebounded, assisted and played stifling defense.
Woods doesn't just sink putts; he crushes the ball off the tee, uses fairway woods and long irons masterfully and displays a great short game.
Vanderjagt is a specialist who has one job: make field goals. The Colts even had to carry a second kicker to handle kickoff duties.
Although both men left school early (Jordan as a junior and Woods as a sophomore), each won a title and showed tremendous poise in high-pressure situations.
Jordan hit the game-winning shot to deliver North Carolina the 1982 national championship, establishing a reputation as a clutch performer that he would continue to reinforce throughout his pro career.
Woods won the 1996 NCAA individual championship at Stanford. He also won the U.S. Amateur Championship a record three staight times from 1994 to 1996, the first as its youngest champion ever. His come-from-behind victory in 1994 is considered the greatest in the tournament's 111-year history, establishing a reputation as a clutch performer that Woods would continue to reinforce throughout his pro career.
Vanderjagt never kicked in a bowl game for West Virginia or enjoyed much individual success. As a senior, he hit 15 of 20 field goals and just 27 of 32 extra points.
Jordan and Woods have habitually been the best in the world.
Jordan won 10 scoring titles in 15 NBA seasons and led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in 13 years.
Woods has won 48 PGA tournaments in 10 years, including 10 majors, and has been the tour's top money earner six times.
Vanderjagt won two Grey Cups in the CFL, a league known for its inferior competition and lax drug policy. He won the NFL scoring title in 1999, but in the playoffs, his teams have a 3-6 record and have never advanced to a Super Bowl. Vanderjagt might be able to claim a winning postseason record had he not personally cost the Colts twice, missing crucial late-game field goal attempts in 2000 and 2005.
Jordan and Woods have racked up numerous individual honors from observers who have routinely proclaimed each the best at their respective sports.
Jordan was named an NBA All-Star 14 times and the league's Most Valuable Player five times. Sports Illustrated deemed him its "Sportsman of the Year" in 1991.
Woods has been named the PGA Tour Player of the Year six times. Sports Illustrated deemed him its "Sportsman of the Year" twice (1996, 2000), the first time just a few months after he turned pro.
Vanderjagt has made one Pro Bowl. Whoopty-freakin'-doo.
To answer Vanderjagt's rhetorical question, Jordan and Woods are every bit as good as the public thinks they are. They define greatness in their respective sports. On the other hand, Mike, you aren't nearly as good as you've convinced yourself you are.
"I truly feel like I'm in a zone right now," Vanderjagt told Sports Illustrated.
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