The Unlikely Winner of the Bears’ Bizarre Kicking Lottery
January 6, 2019: The Bears trailed the Eagles 16-15 with 10 seconds left in the NFC Wild Card game. Chicago kicker Cody Parkey lined up for the game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt. It hit the upright, then the crossbar, and the infamous double-doink left Chicago feeling sick. The Bears' season was over.
Parkey was cut on March 13 – despite my efforts to save him with an underdog story last winter – but the Bears found another warm-weather Florida kid to replace him. How they found him was nothing short of unusual…
“The state of confusion grew out of the early stages of a kicker search the likes of which none of the participants could have anticipated, marked by unyielding pressure, conspiracy theories, cryptic analytics, unfamiliar Doppler technology, a bizarre air of secrecy and a coaching staff’s obsession with the final, heartbreaking moment of last season.” – Kalyn Kahler (Sports Illustrated)
Honestly, no one knows exactly what went down this offseason. Some teams bring in three or four guys for a kicker competition when they’re desperate to find a replacement. Chicago brought in nine. They already had their long-snapper signed, and the special teams room looked like a messed up bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken; nothing but legs.
Head coach Matt Nagy was a bitter Bear during the entirety of spring training, making headlines with his unprecedented kicking experiments as he clung to the agony of January’s demise. He implemented “August Silence” to recreate the pressure of a putt at The Masters. The special teams coordinators tracked distances and launch angles by renting equipment used by golfers to evaluate swings (Seriously, no NFL team has ever done this). Those nine guys kicked more 43-yard field goals from “the Parkey spot” than extra points.
Only two kickers survived rookie camp; Elliot Fry and Chris Blewitt. One day later, the Bears traded for Eddy Pineiro.
Blewitt was cut at the end of mini-camp when he missed a 43-yarder at the end of practice. Fry was released in August after pulling a 47-yarder against the Giants. And Eddy-on-the-spot Pineiro – not one of the nine – was the last man standing.
Let me tell you a few things about Eddy before he steps into the most pressure-packed kicking job in NFL history. He’s 24 years old and entering his second season with absolutely zero NFL experience. He spent his rookie year on injured reserve in Oakland after the Raiders signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Before that, Pineiro kicked at the University of Florida and made 17 out of 18 field goals in his senior season. And before that, he played high school soccer in Miami. He’s never kicked in cold weather, or in a regular-season NFL game, let alone a playoff atmosphere in Chicago's bitter cold.
Tonight, it’s Bears vs. Packers at Soldier Field in front of a fan base still steaming from the last leg to let them down. The kicker might be the most curiously important position in sports; from hero to zero in one kick after three hours of physical warfare. But in Chicago, it’s been eight months (242 days) of 43-yard nightmares.
No pressure, Pineiro.