Maybe because it's the Super Bowl, and the New England Patriots are back for the fifth time in 10 years, that I called Doug Blevins.
Doug can't walk. Cerebral Palsy took that away, so he rides everywhere in a motorized wheelchair. But if it wasn't for Doug, Adam Vinatieri wouldn’t exist -- at least the Adam Vinatieri we know. And without Vinatieri, there might not be the kick in the snow against the Raiders or the kick against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
And then maybe a decade of Patriots dominance never happens. Which might make Doug the most essential person you've never heard of in the New England dynasty.
He is in his new house outside of Ashville, N.C. when I reach him. A sinus problem has turned his Appalachian twang into a syrupy growl. But Patriots Super Bowls always excite him because they bring back memories of the night 10 years ago when he sat in a restaurant watching Vinatieri drive the title-winning field goal through the goal posts. Doug wept that night, the tears rolling down his face in the middle of the restaurant. A waiter rushed over to see if something was wrong. Doug’s ex-wife had to explain that no, everything was actually right, because you see this was the man who coached Adam Vinateri and ...
"The guy just thought I was crazy and walked away," Doug says, laughing.
But how could Doug have explained everything right then? How could he have told the waiter how he loved football growing up in the Virginia mountains and how he longed so much to be a part of the game that he studied kickers and punters thinking there was a place in football for a man who understood them? He could have talked about the letters he wrote to every coach in the NFL, begging for advice on coaching special teams and how the only one to reply was the Cowboys' Tom Landry, who sent over piles of books and plays and notes from his coaches.
He could also have told how he eventually took those books and studied them, learning everything about men who did something he never could -- kick a ball. And how he turned that into a coaching career, eventually finding work with the New England Patriots and New York Jets and Miami Dolphins as a kicking advisor.
But who would believe that?
Nor could he have explained the story of how Vinatieri found no NFL offers upon leaving South Dakota State and -- desperate for any help -- he sent Blevins videos of his kicking. For days Doug didn’t even look at the tape; he was too busy. But Vinatieri kept calling, pestering Doug, until finally he put the tape in his VCR and he knew immediately he was seeing a man with potential. If only he wouldn't swing open his hips on kickoffs and rotate them left on field goals.
Blevins invited Vinatieri to come to his home in Abingdon, Va., where they could work on his form.
Would the waiter have believed Vinatieri slept in the cab of his pickup truck that first night in Abingdon? Would he have understood they spent a year in that town, working out every day on local high school fields until Vinatieri finally got his form right? And what would that waiter say if he knew they ended every session with a 48-yard kick to win the Super Bowl?
So yes, that's why Doug was crying that night. Not just because it was Vinatieri, or because it was the Super Bowl, but because the spot on the field was exactly 48 yards away. And what do you say about destiny?
"You know when you really get right down to it that kick really launched my career," Doug says into the phone. "I'm still benefitting from that one play."
I came across Doug two years after the field goal against the Rams. He told me the story he never could have told the waiter in the restaurant. It was right before the next Patriots Super Bowl, the one in which they beat the Carolina Panthers. Vinatieri won the game again with a field goal. Not long after came a flood of attention: stories in newspapers; a segment on HBO’s Real Sports. And soon parents with kids who wanted to be kickers started calling. Suddenly they were driving up the road to Abingdon to meet the man in the wheelchair who made Adam Vinatieri great.
He opened a kicking business. He ran camps. He became a motivational speaker, flying around the country to talk to people about how a man in a wheelchair could help win a Super Bowl.
He called his speech: "The American Dream Endures."
"It's been an interesting ride, an interesting 10 years," he says.
Recently he moved to North Carolina, thinking it would be easier for his clients to get to Ashville than Abingdon. He lives with his girlfriend, Brenda Morgan, who is from New Hampshire and just so happens to be a Patriots fan. And yes, she was watching that night 10 years ago when Adam Vinatieri beat the Rams, never imagining the story behind the kick.
Doug still talks to Vinatieri, who ironically plays here in Indianapolis on the very field where the Patriots will try to win another Super Bowl. Funny how life works this way.
"That kick brought brought me so much attention," Doug says. "It brought credibility to everything I did."
And yes, he says, he will be watching on Sunday. And he might cry again. After all, it's the Super Bowl, and the memories are all still too fresh of the night Adam Vinatieri made Doug Blevins dreams come true.
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