Mention the name Mike Vanderjagt to any Indianapolis Colts fan, chances are they will remember an outspoken kicker who muffed a game-tying kick against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game.
However, there was a good side to Vanderjagt – he was an accurate kicker for the most part of his controversial career with the Colts.
He was a career 86.5 percent kicker in a combined nine seasons with Indy and the Dallas Cowboys.
His 145 points led the NFL in scoring in 1999.
Unfortunately, fans of the Horseshoe will remember him more for failing to deliver in crunch time.
Mike Vanderjagt Unraveled As His Colts Career Wound Down
The Colts signed Vanderjagt to replace Pro Bowl kicker Cary Blanchard prior to the 1998 NFL season.
Vanderjagt’s rookie year coincided with Peyton Manning‘s – the No. 1 overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Prior to wearing the Horseshoe, Vanderjagt was a CFL and AFL journeyman who played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Tampa Bay Storm, Minnesota Fighting Pike, and Toronto Argonauts.
Vanderjagt quickly proved he belonged in the National Football League.
He converted at least 82.4 percent of his field goal tries through his first four NFL seasons.
Vanderjagt’s 145 points led the league in scoring in his second season with the Colts in 1999.
With Vandjeragt on board, Indy won an average of 12 games from 1999 to 2000 but never made it past the AFC Divisional Round.
All of a sudden, his mouth got him in trouble.
Peyton Manning ranting at the Pro Bowl calling Mike Vanderjagt their “idiot kicker who got liquored up” after Vanderjagt criticized Peyton and Tony Dungy during an interview. pic.twitter.com/ZqrgPGjSy3
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) June 19, 2020
In the aftermath of the Colts’ 41-0 shutout loss to the New York Jets in the 2002 AFC Wild Card Game, Vanderjagt publicly questioned Tony Dungy‘s leadership.
At the time, Vanderjagt thought the unflappable Dungy was too mild-mannered as a football coach.
Vanderjagt also took a shot at Manning’s leadership.
Manning, not one to back down, promptly called Vanderjagt an “idiot kicker” who got “liquored up” a week later at the 2003 Pro Bowl.
Despite the controversy Vanderjagt stirred, it was evident he was one of the best kickers in the NFL.
Incredibly, he made all 37 of his field goal attempts and 46 of his PAT tries for a career-best 157 points in the 2003 NFL campaign.
With Vanderjagt clicking on all cylinders, the Colts continued their onslaught and won an average of 13 games per year from 2003 to 2005.
The 2005 edition of the Colts was one of the best in recent franchise history.
That group boasted the likes of Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders, Jeff Saturday, Robert Mathis, and Dwight Freeney.
On paper, it seemed Indy was a solid Super Bowl contender.
Unfortunately, January 16, 2005 was a day Vanderjagt and Colts Nation would rather forget.
Indy squared off against an upstart Pittsburgh Steelers team in the AFC Divisional Round.
The Colts trailed 21-3 in the second half before touchdowns by Clark and James helped them narrow the deficit to just three points.
Behind a huge hit by Gary Brackett, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis fumbled at the three-yard line.
Colts defensive back Nick Harper scooped up the loose ball and began making his way toward the opposite end zone.
Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tackled Harper at the Colts’ 42-yard line.
Manning then led a drive that set up Vanderjagt’s potential game-tying 46-yard field goal attempt with 18 seconds left on the game clock.
Alas, the usually reliable Vanderjagt kicked it wide right – it was never close.
Here’s @CowherCBS calling a time-out to “freeze” Mike Vanderjagt, gave Cowher a point when he did it. He then proceeded to miss the field goal. Vanderjagt had never missed a field goal in the dome up to that point. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/N97SfpFQRl
— BlitzburghUSAVideos (@sdextrasmedia) December 5, 2020
The Colts lost in heartbreaking fashion, 21-18.
Vanderjagt unbuckled his chin strap and slammed his helmet in frustration on the sideline while the Steelers whooped it up on the RCA Dome turf.
That miss will live on in infamy in Colts franchise history.
It’s also how many Colts diehards will remember how Vanderjagt’s career in the Circle City ended.
Colts president and general manager Bill Polian and co. opted not to re-sign Vanderjagt in the offseason.
They signed former New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri instead.
Vanderjagt wound up spending one season with the Dallas Cowboys before playing his final down in the NFL.
In a nutshell, Vandjeragt was a reliable kicker for the most part during his eight-year tenure in Indy.
Unfortunately, his controversial nature and his costly missed field goal attempt against the Steelers ultimately did him in.
Nonetheless, he was instrumental in helping the Colts rise to prominence during the Peyton Manning era.