Bob picked the wrong Vinatieri

Bob picked the wrong Vinatieri by Bob Karolevitz I obviously concentrated on the wrong Vinatieri.

Instead of writing about Adam � the South Dakota-born place-kicker whose field goal provided the margin of victory for still another Patriots' Super Bowl win � I chronicled the life of his great-grandfather, Felix Villiet Vinatieri, in one of my books of history.

Even though Professor Vinatieri was the bandmaster for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, he was ho-hum by current assessments compared to the young man who booted New England into dynasty status.

Adam was born in Yankton some 80 years after his great-grandfather died of pneumonia at age 57 on Dec. 5, 1891. Though the elder Vinatieri traveled extensively � he was even with the Ringling Brothers Circus Band for a time � he was little known compared to his later kin who has become a household name on national television and the American press.

Incidentally, Phyllis and I saw Adam as an undergraduate kicker for the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits, and we were not impressed.

How did we know that he would rise to such stature in the football world? His great-grandfather was the celebrity as far as we were concerned.

I wrote that Professor Vinatieri had been born in Turin, Italy, in 1834. His father was a piano manufacturer and his mother an accomplished harpist. At 18 he graduated from the music school at the University of Naples and soon he became bandmaster of the Queen's Guard.

You'd think that Adam would be a musician with that background. But, no, he had to become a football player!

Felix Vinatieri came to America just in time to join the Union army for the Civil War. Military service eventually led him to Fort Sully in Dakota Territory; and when he was discharged in 1870, he settled in Yankton where he married 16-year-old Anna Frances Fejfar.

There he had given up all thoughts of army life as he taught music, composed tunes and formed a city band. When Custer came to town in 1873, the "professor" � as the paper called him � played his violin and led his musicians at a gala ball for the Garry Owen troopers.

That so impressed Custer that he convinced Vinatieri to re-enlist to head his leaderless Seventh Cavalry band. The rest, of course, is history.

The 5-foot-2-inch bandmaster rode out of Yankton on a white horse � a photo-op if there ever was one. He accompanied the regiment when it made history in the Black Hills; and he did not perish at Little Big Horn because the band was left behind on the steamboat Far West.

Then, when his enlistment was over in 1876, he returned to Yankton where he taught, composed music (marches, waltzes, polkas and two complete light operas) and used the small South Dakota city as his home base while traveling and performing elsewhere.

Besides three daughters and five sons he had with Anna (they were all musically inclined), he left behind two trunks full of beautifully penned compositions, embellished with unique pen-and-ink drawings.

They say he was an artist, too � but unfortunately he couldn't kick field goals like Adam did, and therein lies the difference.

Yes, I made my choice of Vinatieris to write about. I probably picked the wrong one.

© 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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