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NFL ratings, which have been down significantly this season, have improved slightly since the U.S. presidential election.
While viewership is down 10 percent overall through the first 14 weeks of the season compared to that time span in 2015, that’s four percentage points better than the collective broadcasts were down a little more than a month ago.
The kicker returned from West Point and called up South Dakota State, a Division II program that had offered him an 80 percent scholarship out of high school. Mike Daly, the coach, could offer Vinatieri only 50 percent on the rebound, and the kid had little choice but to take it.
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Vinatieri kicked and punted better than anyone in his conference and then grew unhappy when Daly bumped his scholarship to only 55 percent. He nearly transferred to Wyoming for the experience of playing Division I ball and the chance to earn a full ride. “And I was really disappointed to hear that,” Daly recalls.
They had a heart-to-heart, and Vinatieri decided to stay, but soon enough the kicker had missed enough field goals to compel Daly to bench him in favor of a lineman who had won a tryout for the job. The lineman would miss as many as the kicker did, Vinatieri regained his job and his stroke, and then Daly and his assistant, Trent Baalke, now the San Francisco 49ers general manager, tried to persuade NFL teams to take a shot on Vinatieri in the summer of 1995. Daly called a friend and a South Dakota State grad, Brad Seely, then the special-teams coach with the Carolina Panthers, and he took a pass. The same Brad Seely who would win three Super Bowls with Vinatieri in his next stop.
Vinatieri fielded a suggestion from Brian Hansen, an NFL punter out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to contact a kicking coach in Abingdon, Virginia, Doug Blevins, who had just gotten hired by the NFL’s World League. Vinatieri kept calling the coach until he agreed to look at his tape, and on film Blevins saw the requisite leg speed and strength of a pro. He remembers meeting his new student at the airport in the fall of ’95 and seeing a shocked look on his face; Blevins was born with cerebral palsy and effectively lived in his wheelchair.