It’s unfortunate former Indianapolis Colts placekicker Mike Vanderjagt’s days with the franchise ended on a sour note.
Vanderjagt’s disastrous missed 46-yard field-goal attempt during the 2005 AFC Divisional Round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a moment fans of the Horseshoe would rather forget.
Colts president and general manager Bill Polian did not re-sign Vanderjagt. He replaced the kicker with the legendary Adam Vinatieri instead.
Just a little over two months after the Dallas Cowboys released Vanderjagt in November 2006, Vinatieri and the Colts celebrated their first Super Bowl title in Indianapolis.
Although Vanderjagt, a former CFL standout, stirred controversy during his eight-year tenure in Indianapolis, he was still one of the best kickers of his era.
In fact, Vanderjagt’s career 86.46 percent field-goal accuracy is currently the seventh-best in NFL history.
Vanderjagt was also part of a Colts juggernaut in the early-to-mid 2000s that tore apart the opposition week in and week out. Without his dynamite kicking prowess, Indianapolis never would have become an elite squad back in the day.
This is Mike Vanderjagt’s remarkable football journey.
Early Life and College Days with the West Virginia Mountaineers
Michael John “Mike” Vanderjagt was born in Oakville, ON, Canada on March 24, 1970. He is a natural-born Canadian of Dutch descent.
Vanderjagt attended White Oaks Secondary School in his hometown of Oakville, ON. He was a versatile athlete who excelled in football, basketball, track, and soccer for the White Oaks Wildcats.
As Mike’s high school days in Canada wound down, the Michigan State Spartans offered him a football scholarship in 1988.
Vanderjagt was on the Spartans’ roster for three seasons. However, he decided to move to the West Coast and enroll at Allan Hancock College in California in 1991.
According to CanadaFootballChat.com, Vanderjagt left Michigan State because he felt he had no shot at playing quarterback for the Spartans.
Vanderjagt got that opportunity with the Hancock Bulldogs. Aside from his quarterbacking duties, he also became their placekicker in 1991.
Vanderjagt ultimately decided to finish his college football career with the West Virginia Mountaineers, who he suited up for from 1991 to 1992.
When Vanderjagt became a Mountaineer in the early 1990s, he no longer played quarterback. Instead, West Virginia head football coach Don Nehlen wanted him to focus solely on punting and placekicking duties.
Vanderjagt started as a punter for the Mountaineers in the 1991 NCAA season. He had a total of 2,040 punting yards in eleven games for an average of 39.2 yards per punt attempt that year.
West Virginia went 6-5 in Vanderjagt’s first season with the squad in 1991.
Nehlen made Vanderjagt his starting placekicker one season later. Mike made 15 of his 20 field-goal attempts for a 75 percent accuracy in eleven games in 1992.
The Mountaineers had a 5-4-2 record in Vanderjagt’s last year at West Virginia. They did not play in a bowl game for the third consecutive season.
Mike Vanderjagt had laid the foundation for a nine-year NFL career that saw him become one of the most accurate placekickers in league history.
Pro Football Career
Mike Vanderjagt, one of the most accurate placekickers in National Football League history, hit a rough patch early in his pro gridiron career.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in 1993, Vandjerjagt bounced around the Canadian Football League (CFL) and Arena Football League (AFL) for the next three years.
It wasn’t easy for Vanderjagt, who had to endure three CFL teams releasing him a total of four times from 1993 to 1996. The Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Toronto Argonauts cut Vanderjagt during that forgettable three-year span.
Vanderjagt eventually spent the 1996 AFL season with the now-defunct Minnesota Fighting Pike before strutting his wares in the CFL.
He finally earned a spot on the Toronto Argonauts’ regular-season roster in the 1996 CFL season. Indeed, the third time was the charm for Vanderjagt, whom the Argonauts had released twice in previous years.
This time, Mike Vanderjagt made the most of his opportunity in Toronto.
Vanderjagt converted 40 of his 56 field-goal attempts during the 1996 CFL campaign. He made all four of his field-goal tries in snowy field conditions in the Argonauts’ 43-37 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 1996 Grey Cup.
Consequently, Mike Vanderjagt earned the Most Outstanding Canadian honors at the end of the game.
The game was a double victory for Vanderjagt. His divorced parents watched the game together at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, ON, per Sports Illustrated‘sL. Jon Wertheim.
Vanderjagt picked up where he left off the following season. His 44.9-yard punting average was the best in the 1997 CFL campaign. He also nailed 33 of his 43 field-goal attempts that year.
Vanderjagt continued his flawless performance in the Grey Cup. He made all five of his field-goal tries in Toronto’s 47-23 rout of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1997.
Return to the States
Behind Mike Vanderjagt’s clutch performances, the Toronto Argonauts won consecutive Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997.
Before long, Vanderjagt’s marksmanship caught the eye of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. They eventually signed him prior to the 1998 NFL season.
His rookie year coincided with that of a player he eventually butted heads with later on in his pro football career: Peyton Manning.
Remarkably, Vanderjagt was more accurate in his first year in the NFL than he had been in his previous two years in the CFL.
Mike made 27 of his 31 field-goal attempts as a rookie kicker during the 1998 NFL campaign. Despite Vanderjagt’s best efforts, the Colts duplicated their atrocious 3-13 win-loss record from the previous season.
Vanderjagt and the Colts orchestrated one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in NFL history in 1999. Their gaudy 13-3 win-loss mark duplicated their franchise best from when they were still known as the Baltimore Colts in 1968.
Mike Vanderjagt played a pivotal role in that resurgence. He converted on 34 of his 38 field-goal attempts and scored a league-leading 145 points.
Consequently, Vanderjagt earned Second-Team All-Pro honors at the end of the 1999 NFL season.
Indy averaged nearly twelve wins per season over the next two years. Unfortunately, the Colts never made it past the AFC Divisional Round.
One of Mike Vanderjagt’s first major heartbreaks in the National Football League was the AFC Wild Card Game against the Miami Dolphins on December 30, 2000.
Vanderjagt, who nailed 25 of his 27 field-goal tries in the regular season, missed a crucial 49-yard field-goal attempt in overtime that would have sealed the win for the Colts. It wasn’t even close.
It was an eerie premonition of yet another heart-breaking moment in the postseason for Mike Vanderjagt some five years later.
Vanderjagt’s costly miss occurred almost two months after he signed a lucrative five-year extension with the Colts worth approximately $7.75 million.
According to The Associated Press (via ESPN), that contract made Vanderjagt the league’s highest-paid kicker.
After watching his field-goal attempt sail wide right, Vanderjagt walked dejectedly toward Indy’s bench and watched as Dolphins running back Lamar Smith scored the game-winning touchdown run on the next series.
Vanderjagt told the Oakville Beaver’s Rod Jerred over a round of golf in the summer of 2001 that the miss still bothered him seven months later.
Although the botched field goal attempt lingered in Vanderjagt’s mind, he also told Jerred he used that as motivation to make himself better as the 2001 NFL season drew near.
Alas, the Colts took a huge step backward in 2001. Running back Edgerrin James’s torn ACL and a shoddy defense limited Indy to just six wins that year. It turned out to be head coach Jim Mora’s final season in Indianapolis.
Despite Indy’s misfortunes, Vanderjagt continued playing at a high level. He made 28 of his 34 field goal attempts and scored 125 points in 2001.
Things looked up for the Colts after they hired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy prior to the 2002 NFL season.
Although Dungy helped the Colts win ten games in 2002, his first season with the Colts ended in humiliating fashion.
Herm Edwards’s New York Jets manhandled Indianapolis in the 2002 AFC Wild Card Game, 41-0.
A Regrettable Interview
That did not sit well with Vanderjagt, who stirred controversy when he criticized Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning during an interview with The Score, a Canadian sports media network, in early 2003.
Vanderjagt told the network he felt both Dungy and Manning lacked the emotion the Colts needed in 2002. He thought Dungy, in particular, wasn’t much of a motivator who got in a player’s face whenever the going got tough. That was something he felt the Colts lacked.
“I’m not a real big Colts fan right now, unfortunately,” Vanderjagt quipped (via The Associated Press and ESPN). “I just don’t see us getting better.”
Not one to back down, the fiery Manning did not take kindly to Vanderjagt’s words. He fired back at the loquacious kicker during the 2003 Pro Bowl.
“I’m out at my third Pro Bowl, I’m about to go and throw a touchdown to Jerry Rice, we’re honoring the Hall of Fame, and we’re talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off,” Manning told The Associated Press (via ESPN) on February 3, 2003.
While Manning admitted Vanderjagt was a top-notch NFL kicker, he also told the publication the latter was “an idiot.”
Vanderjagt agreed. He admitted to ThePostGame.com’s Eric Adelson in a January 2011 interview he “was an idiot” for those disparaging remarks about his head coach and quarterback.
Shortly after Manning’s comments made front-page news, Vanderjagt apologized to the Colts organization for his remarks.
Despite the infamous brouhaha, the Colts pulled themselves together and put the embarrassing loss to the Jets behind them.
Turning Things Around
Dungy’s famous Tampa 2 defensive scheme helped transform the Colts, whose team defense during Mora’s tenure left much to be desired, into a juggernaut in the early-to-mid 2000s.
With Dungy at the helm, Indianapolis averaged twelve wins in his first four years on the job. He eventually led the Colts to their first Super Bowl title in Indianapolis in 2006.
As for Vanderjagt, he continued playing well on special teams. His best year of the unforgettable Dungy era was in 2003 when he made all 37 of his field-goal tries and all 46 of his extra-point attempts.
To nobody’s surprise, Mike Vanderjagt earned his first and only Pro Bowl selection in 2003. He also earned First-Team All-Pro honors that year.
The Colts plowed through the opposition during the 2005 NFL season. The core of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Vanderjagt overwhelmed opponents week in and week out.
Many fans and pundits felt it was the best Colts team owner Jim Irsay and president and general manager Bill Polian have ever assembled.
It was only a matter of time before they won their first Super Bowl title since moving to Indianapolis, IN from Baltimore, MD in the spring of 1984.
Regrettably, Indy’s Super Bowl aspirations landed with a resounding thud in the postseason.
One of the lowlights of Mike Vanderjagt’s pro football career was the AFC Divisional Round Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 15, 2006.
Behind two touchdown passes from second-year quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh led Indianapolis 21-3 entering the fourth quarter.
It seemed Vanderjagt and Co. were doomed.
However, the Colts clawed their way back in the fourth quarter. Touchdowns from Clark and James helped cut the Steelers’ lead to 21-18 with just 4.24 remaining in the game.
Pittsburgh had a chance to put the game out of reach on 1st and 10 from Indy’s three-yard line with 1:20 left. After receiving a handoff from Roethlisberger, running back Jerome Bettis made his way to the end zone.
Just as Bettis was about to score a touchdown, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett’s helmet made contact with the football. Bettis fumbled at the goal line and Indy defensive back Nick Harper scooped up the loose ball.
Fans at the RCA Dome thought Harper was about to score a defensive touchdown. However, Roethlisberger tackled him at the Colts’ 42-yard line.
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
Indy moved the sticks and eventually set up Vanderjagt’s potential game-tying 46-yard field goal.
Vanderjagt, who made 23 of 25 field goals and scored 121 points during the regular season, seemed like a sure bet.
Alas, Vanderjagt’s field-goal attempt sailed wide right. It wasn’t even close.
Vanderjagt slammed his helmet in frustration on the sideline while the Steelers, who would eventually beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, whooped it up on the RCA Dome turf.
“I’m a human being; I’m going to miss kicks I wish I’d have made and I’ve made a lot of kicks nobody else in the world would have made, too,” Vanderjagt told the National Post’s Jeremy Sandler (via CFL.ca) in the spring of 2009. “There’s probably three kicks out of thirteen years that I wish I had back.”
Not only did the Colts’ Super Bowl hopes end in frustrating fashion, but Mike Vanderjagt also played his last game with The Horseshoe.
Indianapolis did not re-sign Vanderjagt, who became a free agent at the season’s end. The Colts signed former New England Patriots placekicker Adam Vinatieri instead.
With Vinatieri in tow, the Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI just over a year after Vanderjagt’s infamous field-goal gaffe against the Steelers.
Ironically, Vanderjagt attempted a 46-yard field goal—the exact distance of his botched field-goal try against the Steelers—along a Manhattan, NY street when he appeared as a guest on The David Letterman Show just four days after the loss to Pittsburgh.
Vanderjagt’s kick was perfect.
Sources told Sports Illustrated in 2006 Vanderjagt’s stunt on national television earned the ire of Colts president and general manager Bill Polian.
Polian, who had grown tired of Vanderjagt’s off-field controversies, told him they would not re-sign him.
Vanderjagt took the turn of events in stride. He thought the Colts were in good hands with Vinatieri, who went on to spend his next fourteen pro football seasons in Central Indiana.
“I think (Polian) took me for granted,” Vanderjagt told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 2006. “But look, Vinatieri is money. They probably won’t miss me with a guy like Adam.”
Contrary to the brash persona Vanderjagt projected, many of his Colts teammates respected him.
One of those players was eventual Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James, who runs a Florida sports bar with the former Colts kicker.
“We love Vandy,” James told Wertheim in 2006. “One bad kick doesn’t wipe out all the ones he made. People say, ‘He cost us that game.’ We all lost it. It’s not like we were winning when he went out there.”
A Cup of Coffee with the Cowboys
When Vanderjagt tested the free-agent waters in the summer of 2006, Bill Parcells’s Dallas Cowboys expressed interest in his services.
The Cowboys were coming off a respectable 9-7 win-loss season that saw them failing to contend for the postseason for the fifth time in the previous six years.
Dallas’s three kickers failed to live up to expectations during the 2005 NFL season. They missed eight of their twenty-eight field-goal attempts. Parcells and Co. thought Vanderjagt fit the bill perfectly.
The Cowboys paid K Mike Vanderjagt $3.4m to make 13 of 18 FG attempts in 2006 and released him after 11 games. pic.twitter.com/h6acDMc5Dv
— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) April 9, 2016
Vanderjagt made 13 of 18 field-goal attempts in ten games for the Cowboys in 2006. He nailed all 33 of his extra-point attempts.
However, it was apparent Vanderjagt was nowhere near the Pro Bowl kicker he had been just three seasons earlier.
Vanderjagt’s two field-goal attempts in a Week 11 game against his former team, the Colts, missed badly. Vanderjagt’s 22-yard field-goal attempt against the Buccaneers barely made it through the uprights the following week.
Apparently, the Cowboys’ kicking woes were far from over. They released him and signed Martin Gramatica after the former’s fiascos against the Colts and Buccaneers in November 2006.
Vanderjagt did not receive any interest from other NFL teams in subsequent years.
All Good Things Must End
After his final NFL game in 2006, his career totals include 230 of 266 field goals made and 377 of 379 extra-point attempts made.
Mike Vanderjagt scored 1,067 points during his nine-year career in the National Football League from 1998 to 2006.
As of the 2022 NFL season, Vanderjagt’s 86.46 field-goal accuracy is seventh all-time in NFL history behind Justin Tucker, Younghoe Koo, Daniel Carlson, Harrison Butker, Matt Gay, and Josh Lambo.
After a one-year hiatus from the gridiron, Vanderjagt signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts—the team he helped win consecutive Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997—on May 31, 2008.
Unfortunately, Vanderjagt’s second tour of duty with the Argonauts was disastrous, to say the least. Toronto won just four games in 2008 and missed the postseason for the first time in the past seven seasons.
Vanderjagt requested the Argonauts to release him on August 25, 2009. The 39-year-old kicker told Sportsnet that month he wanted to spend more time with his family in Florida.
According to Vanderjagt, getting released gave him more options rather than retiring from professional football outright.
However, Mike Vanderjagt never played another down from that point onward.
Vanderjagt spent his offseasons in Kilbride, ON, Canada during his nine-year pro football career. He transformed his house into a makeshift museum that featured various collectibles from fellow NFL players he rubbed elbows with over the years.
For instance, when Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison recorded his 100th career touchdown reception in October 2005, Vanderjagt asked him if he could have the gloves he used to record the milestone.
A perplexed Harrison agreed. Vanderjagt soon framed them in his Kilbride, ON basement, per Sports Illustrated. Vanderjagt also regularly played hoops in his indoor basketball court and exercised in his basement gym.
Mike Vanderjagt, his wife Janalyn, and their son Jay Michael currently reside in the Medina, NY area.
He is an assistant coach of the Medina Mustangs, a high school football team from Western New York.
Vanderjagt and his brothers co-own Five Brothers, a pizzeria located two hours west of Miami, FL.
Eight years after Colts quarterback Peyton Manning called Vanderjagt a “liquored up” kicker, the latter told ThePostGame.com in 2011 there was no truth to that statement. In fact, Vanderjagt claimed he’s a teetotaler.
“First and foremost, I don’t drink,” Vanderjagt said. “I was 198 percent sober the night I went on TV.”
Vanderjagt also told Adelson he has a three-page legal document with Manning’s signature testifying Peyton’s comment about Mike’s alleged drinking was false.
Despite Vanderjagt’s on-field controversies, he told ThePostGame.com police have never arrested him for DUI. He’s also not the intoxicated husband who regularly beats up his wife.
The former Colts kicker, who some critics dubbed “Vanderjerk” during his playing days, also claimed he is not the scumbag people think he is.
He doubts Hall of Fame running back Edgerrin James, one of his closest friends to the present day, would hang out with him.
Despite Vanderjagt’s near fallout with Manning, he has adorned his family restaurant with various paraphernalia of the Hall of Fame signal caller.
Vanderjagt made headlines in 2012 when he allegedly grabbed a high school student by the throat after the latter taunted him for his missed field goals during his playing days in the NFL.
However, Vanderjagt claimed he only held the boy in place while talking to him in a stern voice.
Vanderjagt was a coach and parent at Florida’s Marco Island Charter Middle School back then. Parents and employees alike claimed he was a person of good moral character during his time with the school.
Vanderjagt’s son Jay has followed in his footsteps on the gridiron. He is currently a college quarterback for the Findlay Oilers in Ohio.