MIAMI — Robbie Gould is one of those rare Chicago Bears who became much more beloved after he left town than he was when he was here.
The former Bears’ placekicker and franchise’s all-time leading scorer was certainly well-liked over his 11 seasons as a Bear, there can be no disputing that.
But there is also no debating that few if any Bears fans raised any kind of a stink when after setting the Bears' all-time scoring record in mid October of 2015, Gould was released following the season by rookie GM Ryan Pace — thanks in large part to a campaign to move on from then-special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and head coach John Fox.
It was actually Gould’s second-most prolific season as a Bear — with 127 points, trailing only the 2006 Super Bowl season when he totaled 143 points — but it was just his seventh most accurate season, connecting on 33-of-39 kicks.
It was also problematic that after starting the season hitting 15 straight field goals — including a 30-yarder in Week 4 to set the franchise record in an 18-17 win at Kansas City — he missed a 51-yard field goal in Week 6 in a 23-20 loss to the Vikings; missed twice the next week against San Diego from 47 and 44 yards in a 22-19 loss; missed twice in Week 12, including a 36-yard attempt with two seconds to play with the game tied at 20-all, sending it to overtime where the Bears lost to the 49ers, of all teams, 26-20; and then a week later he missed a 50-yarder with 1:45 to play in a 24-21 loss to Washington.
Though Gould did finish the season hitting seven straight, including two outside the 50, the dye was cast.
The less-than-fair perception that those missed kicks turned what could have been a 10-6 first season for Fox and Rodgers into a 6-10 campaign – their best with the Bears in three seasons, as it turned out – was enough for Rodgers and Fox to convince Pace it was time to move on.
In response, Gould went on to be the best kicker in the NFL over the next three seasons — Justin Tucker perhaps nonwithstanding — with the Giants in 2016 and 49ers in 2017-18, converting 82-of-85 field goal attempts, including 6-for-6 outside the 50.
Again, while many in Bears Nation questioned the wisdom of moving on from Gould from the jump, the ill-fated steady parade through town of Connor Barth, Mike Nugent, Cairo Santos, Roberto Aguayo and, worst of all, Cody Parkey, his $15 million contract and "Today Show" appearance has been used as a cudgel for Pace detractors to consistently wallop him with as Gould became a beloved folk hero.
The Bears hope they have finally found the answer in Eddy Pineiro, but Gould is still sorely missed.
Catching up with Robbie here in Miami late this week, it was a relief to find the exact same guy I knew over his 11 seasons in Chicago.
He is outgoing, warm, extremely well-liked by his teammates, a veteran leader and if it weren’t for the uniform, I’d have sworn we were still sitting talking at Halas Hall.
Though it appeared he was doing everything in his power to get back to Chicago as a free agent last summer after the massive failure of Parkey, he tells the story a bit differently.
“Well, I’d always wanted to try and get a deal done in San Francisco, and then as negotiations went on obviously we just couldn’t come to a conclusion on what was right for both of us.
“As time kind of moved on, I would never shut down any team in the National Football League, right?
“I think you’re talking about if you want to specifically say a team that you would go to, it’s hard to cut out 31 other teams that you might have the opportunity to play for.
“I love the city of Chicago, I always will. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have played for the Chicago Bears, and one day I’m going to come back and retire as a Bear.
"We’ve lived in Chicago full time so for me, you know I have three boys and them being in school, logistically it would have been for sure easier.
“But I went back and now we’re in the Super Bowl.”
In an unusual twist of fate, this Super Bowl has brought him back to the site of his only other Super Bowl appearance here with the Bears following the 2006 season, but he says it’s a bit different scene now.
“Yeah it’s kind of — the game has grown tremendously in 13 years you know.
“It’s kind of crazy, the ticket prices were $500-600 bucks, now they’re $2,900 and opening night, media night was never as big of a spectacle as it is now.
“It used to be the media and then just the players and picture day . . . but you know I think the uniqueness for me is I have a comfort level because I’ve been here and been through it.
“It brought back really good memories and I’ve had a really great week of practice, and you know I’m excited to get out there and play on Sunday.”
If there was a perceived weakness in Gould’s game early on in Chicago it was that he didn’t have a huge leg, but he has grown into one of the most accurate kickers all time outside the 50-yard line.
“Well I think a lot of it has to do with teams’ philosophies, right?
“Obviously when we were with Lovie we were a heavily defense-oriented team and more often than not if you pass on those 50-plus-yard field goals, even the fringe field goals at 55, 56, we were probably going to score a touchdown or get an easier field goal [gaining field position].
“So I think a lot of it had to do with playing into the analytics of football and how good our defense was.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to what people say. I have a way higher standard for myself and expectation of what I’m supposed to be as a pro, and it’s because of the guys that you’re on the radio with — Olin Kreutz and Patrick — and Roberto Garza, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, you know watching those guys work every day and showing how they prepared and what the standard was to be really good in this league and play for a long time.”
From the outside looking in ,one might think that playing for the offense-minded Kyle Shanahan would be very different than playing for Lovie Smith in his first Super Bowl. But Gould isn’t so sure.
“Well I think they’re a little bit more similar than people would think.
“Kyle is an offensive wizard. I mean, it’s unbelievable to watch him dissect a game from every angle — whether it’s defense, offense or special teams — and tell guys in training camp how it all ties together. I’ve learned a lot of football from Kyle.
“Then you talk about a guy like Lovie, they’re both very loved by players, they treat their players with respect, they treat them like men and you have to earn your respect and earn your keep and you know you definitely saw that out of Lovie. I mean that defense was one of the best, and when Lovie got fired at 10-6, guys were heartbroken because you know we had a lot of respect for him.
“He believed in tough love, and Kyle does the same thing.”
Some Bears fans have tried to blame the McCaskeys for chasing Gould out of town because of a quote attributed to Gould as the Bears' NFLPA representative, when he allegedly responded to a question saying, "people don’t buy tickets to watch Virginia McCaskey," but Robbie bristles at that notion and calls it absurd.
“First of all, that article was taken way out of context!
“I remember that very specifically that was not what [it] was, how it was said or what it was meant to be reported as, but it was.
“I love the McCaskey family. What they’ve been able to do for my family and getting to know them personally.
“This offseason I was at an event for Bryan McCaskey, and he comes and plays at my golf outing.
“I still to this day talk to people through texts and phone calls in the organization and I have no ill will towards anybody.
“I think if anything I have a much better respect for what the organization gave me as a person in one of the greatest sports cities of all time.
“I think people who know me know the way that my tone is and the love and respect that I have for the family and the city of Chicago. It’s pretty deep and it isn’t going away any time soon.”
One of the things that fans seem to struggle with often is where fandom and business intersect in the NFL. The fact is, at the end of the day the league Gould plays in is a multi-billion dollar business first, last and always, and while the players may be idolized and often millionaires, they are still just employees.
Robbie Gould understands that better than most and if there is one message he could send to Bears fans, while it may not be as a player, he will be coming home eventually and he plans to retire as a Bear.