It is Super Bowl weekend, and every minute piece of information about every player is being examined in great detail in the press. I thought I would do my bit by mentioning the ancestry and relationships of one of the better-known players.
First a note to newsletter readers in countries where football is played with a round ball: please bear with us. American football creates a certain hysteria that is difficult to explain to residents of other countries.
Adam Vinatieri seems to be the quintessential All-American hometown hero. The place-kicker played college football at South Dakota State. Many Americans don't even know that South Dakota State has a football team. Some may not even realize that there is a state university! The number of professional football players who graduated from that school can probably be counted on one hand.
Adam Vinatieri didn't exactly get picked in the first round of the football draft. In fact, he didn't get picked at all. When the football draft of college players was completed his senior year, Vinatieri was not picked by anyone. He spent the fall of 1995 training to compete professionally. He received a tryout for the World League of American Football, now known as NFL Europe, and earned a roster position with the Amsterdam Admirals as a place-kicker and punter. After a year in Europe, he eventually joined the Patriots as a lowly rookie free agent in 1996.
Vinatieri's career has been on a fast ride ever since. In the 2001 playoffs, during a blizzard against the Oakland Raiders at Foxboro, Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal to tie the game 13-13 and send it into overtime. The Patriots then won the game on another field goal of 23 yards by Vinatieri. That 45-yard kick in driving snow is regarded as one of the greatest clutch plays in NFL history. In Super Bowl XXXVI he kicked a field goal on the final play to give the New England Patriots a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. Two years later, and in an almost identical situation, he kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left in Super Bowl XXXVIII to boost the Patriots to another championship. This time, the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers, 32-29, making Vinatieri the first player ever to be the deciding factor in two Super Bowl games, and arguably the greatest clutch kicker of all time.
In short, Adam Vinatieri's career seems to be marked by hard work, strong determination, and just a bit of good luck. He seems to come by those traits naturally as they seem to be in his genes. His relatives seem to have similar characteristics.
Adam Matthew Vinatieri was born the son of Paul and Judy Vinatieri on Dec. 28, 1972 in Yankton, S.D. He is the second of four children. He is also the great, great grandson of Felix Vinatieri, who was George Custer's bandmaster.
Felix Villiet Vinatieri was born Felice Villiet in Turin, Italy, in 1834. His father died while Felix was very young. His mother, Amelia, a harpist, remarried two years later to Enrico Felice Vinatieri, a piano builder. The family then moved to Naples, where his stepfather encouraged Felix's musical talents. By the age of ten, Felix was an accomplished violinist. He graduated from Naples' Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in 1853 and subsequently taught there for about a year.
Felix became the director of the Queen's Guard of Spagnis, an Italian military band, at the age of twenty. He held this position for five years, during which time he became well known as a cornetist and performer of various band instruments.
In 1859 Felix and his sister Emmelia (an opera singer) migrated to America. Two years later, Felix enlisted with the Sixteenth Regiment of Massachusetts at Boston, as a musician. He served as an infantry bandleader during the Civil War, was later sent west, and was discharged in December 1870 at Ft. Sully in the Dakota Territory. He chose to settle in Yankton in what is now known as South Dakota.
Felix Vinatieri soon met Anna Frances Fejfar, the daughter of an immigrant Czech family, and the couple was married by Dr. Joseph Ward, founder of Yankton College, in 1871. Vinatieri built a home with a studio in which he would teach the young and compose music.
About the same time, General George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Regiment of Cavalry was assigned to duty at Fort Abraham Lincoln, opposite the new town of Bismarck on the Missouri River. During the regiment's encampment in Yankton, a ball was given in honor of the general and his officers. The leader of the band that night was the thirty-nine-year-old Italian, Felix Vinatieri, who led the band with gusto. General Custer thought the music sophisticated for a wilderness town and asked to meet the bandleader. He explained that his present bandleader had requested to be relieved. The General liked Felix Vinatieri and offered him the position of Chief Musician.
On May 7, 1873, the band rode out of Yankton for Fort Abraham Lincoln. On the lead horse was a proud Felix Vinatieri.
On June 26, 1876, General Custer, along with 276 men, was massacred at the Little Big Horn. The sixteen members of the band, who were mostly German, were spared as Custer had left orders with bandleader Vinatieri that the band was not to engage in battle, but to remain on the supply steamboat, Far West, moored on the Powder River.
Felix Vinatieri returned to Yankton although he did travel occasionally with the Ringling Brothers Circus Band and others. He died of natural causes in Yankton in 1891. None of his musical genes are to be found in the NFL kicker who was born in the same town 81 years later.
Felix Vinatieri isn't the only relative of Adam's that showed determination and luck. It seems that daredevil Evel Knievel is a third cousin. I probably do not need to discuss Knievel's determination, hard work, and luck. Everyone seems to already know of the stunt motorcyclist's reputation.
The reported ancestry of Evel Knievel, as compiled by William Addams Reitwiesner, is available at: http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~addams/other/knievel.html. I have not yet found a detailed report of Adam Vinatieri's ancestry, other than the mention of his parents and his great, great grandfather.
To recap, you've got Custer's bandleader, Evel Kneivel, and one of the greatest NFL kickers of all times, famous for clinching Super Bowl games in the final seconds. This is one family with ice water in their veins!