Canada

Vanderjagt most accurate ever

Canadian Mike Vanderjagt is closing in on NFL history.

The Indianapolis Colts kicker needs just three more field goals to become the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

Vanderjagt, from Oakville, Ont., was a perfect three-for-three Sunday in the Colts' 30-14 road win over the Buffalo Bills, boosting his career mark to 97 of 111 (club-record 87.4 per cent success ratio).

Under NFL rules, Vanderjagt must make a minimum of 100 field goals to qualify for the all-time leading percentage.

Miami's Olindo Mare is presently the NFL's most accurate kicker with a success ratio of 84.8 per cent (128 of 151).

But Vanderjagt, 31, would boost his percentage to 87.7 per cent by making his next three attempts to surpass Mare's mark.

A heady accomplishment considering that from 1993 until 1996 Vanderjagt was released by four different CFL teams -- Saskatchewan, Hamilton and Toronto, twice -- before finally catching on with the Argonauts in '96.

"It (the NFL record) is a very attainable goal at this point but coming into my NFL career I was not looking at that as a goal because it's a pretty lofty one," Vanderjagt said following the Colts' win in Buffalo on Sunday.

"I've been very fortunate so far in my career, I've hit the ball pretty well."

Vanderjagt, who has made 11 of 15 attempts this season, seems to be hitting his stride now after a somewhat slow start -- Vanderjagt's current 73.3 per cent success ratio is low by his standards -- to the season.

He's suffered through two blocked field goal tries and an injury to the big toe on his kicking foot.

The six-foot-five, 210-pound kicker said he has fixed his early-season problem of pushing kicks wide left.

"I was just hurrying things," he said. "I knew what I was doing wrong when I missed those kicks.

"As for the blocks, I really had nothing to do with that, but I haven't really been in a rhythm yet this year."

Vanderjagt also missed his first NFL convert in a game against Oakland last month, snapping a club-record streak of 125 straight.

It wasn't that long ago when Vanderjagt was left wondering if he'd ever be able to get into a rhythm at the pro level.

After kicking for the now-defunct Minnesota Pike of the Arena Football League in 1996, Vanderjagt re-signed with Toronto.

This time, he stuck with the team and became an important member of the Argos consecutive '96-'97 Grey Cup championship squads.

He made 40 of 56 field goal tries in '96 and was named the top Canadian in Toronto's 43-37 Grey Cup victory, hitting on all four field goal attempts in a driving blizzard at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The following season Vanderjagt led the CFL in punting (44.9-yard average) and connected on 33 of 43 field goals.

He was again perfect in the Grey Cup, making all five field-goal tries in the Argos' 47-23 win over Saskatchewan in Edmonton.

Vanderjagt tested the free-agent waters that off-season, signing a deal with the Colts.

He didn't skip a beat in Indianapolis, connecting on 27 of 31 field goal tries in his rookie campaign in 1998.

Vanderjagt proved the following season that he wasn't a one-year wonder, making 34 of 38 tries and amassing 145 points.

Then in 2000, he established a Colts record by making 25 of 27 field goals (92.6 per cent) and was rewarded in November of that year with a five-year, $7.75 million US contract extension.

But Vanderjagt's banner 2000 campaign came to a crashing halt in the Colts opening playoff game versus Miami.

After connecting on three straight field-goal tries, Vanderjagt pushed a 49-yard attempt try wide 5:44 into overtime.

With Vanderjagt sitting on the bench, his head in his hands, Miami drove 61 yards on 11 plays for the winning touchdown, capped by Lamar Smith's 17-yard scoring run.

To his credit, Vanderjagt met with reporters following the game and has often said that atoning for that miss remains a top priority this season.

By Dan Ralph