How Custer’s Decision At Little Bighorn Changed The Course Of NFL History

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Future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri hung up his kicking shoes Wednesday and announced, at the age of 48, he was retiring from the NFL after 397 total games played. As expected, much has been made of Vinatieri’s longevity, but this career wouldn’t have existed if General George Custer had sent his music band into the Battle of Little Bighorn back in 1876.

The story passed down for generations and told to the New York Times in 2002 is that Adam’s great-great-grandfather Felix Vinatieri was Custer’s bandmaster. ”Custer loved music. He believed the band boosted his troops’ morale, and they were good entertainment on long trips,” historian Bob Karolevitz said during a Times interview nearly twenty years ago.

Custer’s last band / Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

According to Karolevitz, Custer didn’t usually take his band into battle, but they were good to have on marches. For Adam Vinatieri’s family, it was a great call and it changed the history of the NFL. Between June 25-26, the U.S. military suffered 268 dead at the hands of Lakotas and Plains Indians. Among the dead were Custer, two of his brothers, his nephew and his brother-in-law.

What would’ve happened if Custer had taken his band into Little Bighorn?

“There probably wouldn’t be anybody, no Vinatieris, no Adam,” Adam’s father, Paul, said in 2002.

The National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota maintains an archive on Felix Vinatieri and has several interesting notes about his life, including the fact that he’d served as a musician during the Civil War only to be sent west by the U.S. military after the war ended in 1865. Vinatieri was discharged in 1870 and settled in Yankton, South Dakota, where he got married in 1871. Custer and his 7th Cavalry came to Yankton in 1873. It was there that a ball was held for the general and his officers. Felix Vinatieri was 39 and leading the band at the ball. Custer enjoyed the music and met Vinatieri that night. Felix, now three years removed from his Civil War-era service, accepted Custer’s offer to become his chief musician.

“On June 26, 1876, General Custer, along with 276 men, was massacred at the Little Big Horn. The sixteen members of the band, who were mostly German, were spared, as Custer had left orders with band leader Vinatieri that the band was not to engage in battle, but to remain on the supply steamboat, Far West, moored on the Powder River,” according to the National Music Museum archive. “[Subsequently], it served as a floating hospital with all of the band members assisting in placing [the wounded] on the boat. They served as medics as the Far West turned around and headed back for the fort at Bismarck, making the nearly thousand mile journey in fifty-four hours.”

Felix left the military for good on December 18, 1876 and returned to Yankton.

Adam Vinatieri’s career ends with four Super Bowl titles and several NFL kicking records, including most consecutive field goals made (44) and most career field goals made (599). He also has the record for combined regular-season games and playoff games at 397.

Written by Joe Kinsey

I'm an Ohio guy, born in Dayton, who roots for Ohio State and can handle you guys destroying the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer and everything associated with Columbus.


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  1. I believe Custer was offered to take a Gatling gun actually two of them he declined and his men only had single shot rifles while the Indians had repeaters also his Indian scouts told him about the force arrayed against him he didn’t take heed. Those two decisions right there led to the disaster for the 7th calvary at the Little Big Horn.

  2. My great great grandfather Daniel Carroll was in the 7th Cavalry troop B. As fate would have it, he was left behind at Ft Lincoln as Acting Post First Sergeant the day of the Battle (detached duty). I can’t imagine how he must’ve reacted when he heard the news.

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