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Feet ready for feat

Adam Vinatieri has only one concern about the possibility of Super Bowl XXXVIII being decided by a last-second field goal.

What if this time the kicking shoe is on the other guy's foot?

Two years ago, Vinatieri delivered the winning 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots a 20-17 victory over the Rams and the Lombardi Trophy. It was the first Super Bowl won on the final play.

But the Panthers have their own version of Mr. Clutch. John Kasay, the only original member of the expansion team from '95, won three games in overtime this season for the Cardiac Cats.

"It would be fun to have that opportunity again, yeah," Vinatieri said. "The way I look at it, I'd much rather it be me on the field than John Kasay out there, because he's a danged good kicker. If he had the opportunity, he'd make it, too.

"Either way, I can see a hard-fought, low-scoring game where the kickers are out there making a big difference."

If that's the case, there is almost no better clutch kicker in league history than Vinatieri.

To get to the Super Bowl two years ago, Vinatieri came up big twice for the Patriots. He made a 45-yard field goal in a blinding snowstorm at Foxboro Stadium to force overtime in the AFC divisional playoff against Jon Gruden's Raiders. Then he delivered a 23-yard field goal to send New England to the conference title game.

This season, in similarly tough conditions with the wind chill below zero, Vinatieri kicked a 46-yard field goal with 4:06 remaining to account for the winning points in the 17-14 victory over the Titans in the AFC Championship Game.

The eighth-year pro ranks as the NFL's 10th-most accurate kicker of all-time with an 80.6 career field-goal percentage. He has 15 career winning kicks, including nine in OT.

"Adam is a good kicker. He had done it," Kasay said. "He had already done it in this type of situation. The game should be a pretty close game, and I expect that it will come out that way. I really believe that it will come down to which team will have the ball last. That will be the difference in winning and losing the game.

"The talk about football is a game of inches, and I guess in this modern age it would be a game of centimeters or millimeters, and a lot of the time that is what it comes down to."

Just as close was the competition between Kasay and Shayne Graham in training camp this season. Experience proved the difference, Kasay having made four of five game-winning kicks in his career.

"Well, he has won," Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun said. "When the game comes down to the line, John is going to make that field goal. He hasn't missed one yet, when it has counted. When the game is on the line, John has been money. There is not a bad feeling in our bodies if John is going to do it. We count on him, and he'll pull through like he always does."

If so, Kasay will become a cult hero in the Carolinas the way Vinatieri's name evokes joyous memories for fans in New England.

"I meet people all the time who tell me where they were or what they were doing at that precise moment," Vinatieri said. "That's kind of neat. But like anywhere, it's kind of, "What have you done for me lately?' "

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