GREEN BAY – Last year right around this time, on a poorly painted football field in Canton, Ohio, Mason Crosby got a chance to chat with the kicker everyone in the business would love to emulate.
The Colts’ Adam Vinatieri had just as little to do as Crosby in preparation for the Hall of Fame non-game, so the conversation went beyond the usual pleasantries. Crosby wanted to find out what he could about Vinatieri’s longevity secrets as the Canton-bound kicker was about to begin his, at the time, 21st season in the NFL.
“I picked Adam’s brain last year, and he’s like, ‘You know, it does get harder every year, but you find ways to improve and keep your mind and body sharp, and just work that much harder every time,’” Crosby recalled earlier this week. “It keeps you motivated to keep you going.”
Crosby, the Packers’ all-time leading scorer who has shown no signs of slowing down as he embarks on his second decade in Green Bay, would love to keep going as long as he can.
Vinatieri has put up numbers that stand on their own in the current era. At age 44, the four-time Super Bowl champion, after 10 seasons in New England, is now entering his 12th in Indianapolis. He ranks third in league history in field goals made and points scored, and he could top both charts sometime in 2018 if he can secure another contract beyond this season.
Crosby doesn’t concern himself with the stats, per se, but talking with Vinatieri reaffirmed that Green Bay’s sixth-round draft pick from 2007, who will turn 33 in a month and a day, takes the right approach to his craft.
“I look at every offseason and make sure I find something that’s going to get me better every year,” Crosby said. “As long as I do that and as long as I love coming here every day and working hard and my mind’s in it, I’m going to go as long as I can perform.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently said he thought he was beginning the “back nine” of his career, and perhaps the same could be said for Crosby. “If you’re meaning nine more years, yeah, that would be good, right?” the avid golfer said with a smile.
What’s different for Crosby is he doesn’t even feel like he’s got 10 seasons under his belt. Five years ago, he suffered through his worst season as a pro, had to fight to keep his job the following summer, and has come out the other end better than he was.
Over the last four seasons (2013-16), Crosby has made 85.9 percent of his field goals (110-128), a significant jump from his 76.8 percent career conversion rate (152-198) up to that point.
“I always talk about 2012 almost being like a re-set in my career,” he said. “I feel like from that year on, it was a whole new start for me. I feel good.”
Crosby also hasn’t let the recent revolving door at long-snapper and holder knock him out of his rhythm.
Last year, the Packers changed punters in the final week of the preseason, claiming Jake Schum and parting ways with the holder (Tim Masthay) Crosby had worked with for six straight years.
Undrafted rookie Justin Vogel is now the only punter in camp, while another undrafted rookie, Derek Hart, is trying to win the snapping job Brett Goode held down for the last seven years, minus a brief injury absence late in 2015 and through the 2016 offseason.
"You've got to give Mason a lot of credit," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's a challenge, there's no doubt about it. He's got a lot of patience, a lot of professionalism working with those guys.
“I think he definitely has the right combination of demeanor and experience to work through that, but it's definitely a challenge."
So far in camp, Crosby is 14-of-15 in live field-goal periods, the only miss clanking the left upright from 42 yards out last Saturday.
The NFL being the ever-changing world that it is, there’s no guarantee more last-minute switches to the field-goal operation aren’t coming again this year, but Crosby isn’t letting the possibility distract from his preparation.
“It’s one of those where, while I’m in the moment, I’m working with these guys, and we’re going to be the best unit we can be,” he said. “Those decisions aren’t mine to make, so I have to keep my head down and just keep making sure that I’m as good as I can be right now, and getting these guys ready if they are the guys. That’s kind of the mindset.”
Crosby’s also moving on from the disappointing finish to a great 2016 season, as he missed a first-quarter, 41-yarder in Atlanta in the NFC title game that snapped his NFL record for consecutive made field goals in the postseason at 23.
He had set the mark in Arizona the year before and then extended it with the two dramatic kicks from 50-plus in Dallas last January, the unquestioned high point of his career.
“It was a great run,” he said. “Disappointed how it ended there in Atlanta, just how that game went. I just need to make that kick. I’ve been so solid, just a little blip on the radar, have to flush and move on from.
“I hope to obviously have more playoff opportunities and get another one rolling.”
As for his regular-season franchise records, he’ll just keep piling on. With 1,267 career points, he’s already more than 200 ahead of former leader Ryan Longwell, and with 262 field goals, he’s three dozen ahead of Longwell atop that list.
In addition, he has the four highest single-season point totals and the seven longest field goals made in team history.
It’s mind-boggling to think how far out of reach he’ll put his records by the time he’s done, but Crosby doesn’t seem close to that yet.
“I feel almost young in my career as far as, it’s been five years now since 2012, and my mindset is just keep adding, just keep putting those numbers up, keep making kicks to help us score points and win games,” he said.
“At the end of the career, those will be things you look back and say it was an amazing run. My goal is to do it as long as possible.”