It's easy to forget this now, but in October 2005, Robbie Gould was an unknown solution to a known problem. Veteran kicker Doug Brien had missed three of four kicks and injured his back, and the Bears held a tryout for his replacement.
Emerging from the pack was Gould, a 22-year-old, undrafted rookie. Eight years later, Bears fans love Gould for his reliable right leg. His teammates appreciate him for much more.
ROBBIE THE JOKESTER
"Here's a Robbie Gould story," third-year safety Anthony Walters said. "My first year, I had just got a new car. And when we have practice indoors we drive over to the indoor facility. So a couple of the vets made me drive them over. I grabbed my car and we drove over, and I parked in a handicap spot over there.
"The whole practice, I was worried if I would get a ticket. They're not going to ticket because it's our facility, but I didn't know that at the time. About a week later I came to the locker room, and I had this letter from [Bears vice president] Cliff Stein, and it was basically a fine for $20,000 for some 'handicap act' or something like that.
"But the whole thing was a hoax. Turns out Robbie went upstairs and got Cliff to make this letter saying they were going to fine me 20 grand for parking in that spot. … They still laugh at it to this day though."
"That wasn't on me," Gould said later with a smile. "It was more on [punter] Adam Podlesh. I was more an accomplice on that."
"We both had our hand in it," Podlesh said, clarifying. "All I can say is that it went over very well."
ROBBIE THE ORGANIZER
On the Bears, positional units create their own culture. But until recently, the special teams were, socially, a relatively splintered group. Gould changed that a year ago when he organized a weekly special teams dinner.
"Special teams guys are all different rooms," said Patrick Mannelly, the team's long snapper since 1998. "They come from [defensive backs], linebackers, receivers, so I thought it would be harder to get together. But we've got a good group of guys in our special teams meeting room, and once Robbie brought it up, guys bought right in and wanted to go."
The dinners take place most Thursday nights during the season, and give special teamers an opportunity to bond off the field and outside the meeting rooms. For safety Brandon Hardin, who spent his 2012 rookie season on injured reserve, the special teams dinners were simply a way to stay connected to the team.
But the significance runs deeper than just added camaraderie.
"You see each other in the locker room, you see each other on the field, but you don't necessarily get a chance to bond and talk with some of your teammates outside and off the field and get a real feel for who some of these people are," Podlesh said. "When you do that, you play harder for them."
"When you're lining up next to that person, you want to be comfortable with that person," said second-year player Joe Anderson. "You don't want to have no grudge, like 'Who's this guy?' You want to have a relationship with somebody next to you … like, 'I want to block for him! This my guy! I want to block for this guy.'"
ROBBIE THE MENTOR
When the Bears signed Podlesh in summer 2011 four days after releasing longtime punter Brad Maynard, Podlesh knew he was replacing a popular man in the Bears locker room. But that made no difference to Gould.
"He called me up the day that I signed," said Podlesh, who said that Mannelly also called him on day one. "That was before I even flew up from Chicago. [Gould] is the type of guy who will give you the shirt off his back. And with how connected he is in the city. ... He's more than willing to utilize [his network] to help any of his teammates, myself included."
Meanwhile, even without any young kickers to mentor during the season, Gould finds ways to relay his special teams knowledge to younger players.
"He's been in the league for a long time, so he knows schemes really well," said Mannelly. "He just will always pull [younger guys] aside and say, 'Hey, you're doing a great job on this.' 'We've had a guy who played like you. Maybe you should look at tape of him.' different stuff like that. He's always in somebody's ear, giving advice."
"Robbie always helped me out when I was a rookie," said tight end Kyle Adams. "Robbie learned my name, and encouraged me, and tried to give me advice on special teams. He was helpful in that way."
"He watches everything," sixth-year cornerback Zack Bowman said. "He always tells me, 'You're there. You just need to cross his face.' (That's a player's phrase meaning to "go make the tackle.") Next play, I already know what to expect. Boom, I'm there, crossed his face, I made the tackle. Stuff like that, to help you become a better player."
"I don't think there's really anything unique about it," said Gould. "As an older player, you've been in how many meetings where you've sat and listened to special teams coaches talk about techniques or why they do certain things at certain times or judging the wind. Those are things that for me I've had to come and understand. And why not pass it on to the young guys?"
ROBBIE THE KICKER
Gould's talents in team building, mentoring and pranking certainly build camaraderie, but you don't have to dig deep to understand what makes Gould so valuable to his team. It's the kicking, stupid! He's converted an unreal 85.6 percent of his attempts in his eight seasons.
"At the end of the day, the way you earn respect in the National Football League," Gould said, "[is] the way you carry yourself and the way you do your job on a daily basis, not just on Sundays."
In eight seasons, Gould has been doing his job on a daily basis AND on Sundays. He is the sixth most accurate kicker in NFL history. He is 8-for-8 on field goals over 50 yards since starting his career 5-for-9. He is 215 points away from passing Kevin Butler as the franchise's all-time leading scorer, a mark he could achieve by 2014.
For both Bears fans and players, Gould's greatest accomplishments are his eight game-winners. Most memorable was his 49-yarder in overtime in 2007 to send the Bears to the NFC championship game, a kick both Gould and Mannelly cite as Gould's best.
But for Podlesh, Gould's greatest moment took place in training camp in 2011.
"We were on the sideline and he wanted to warm up, but we only had one field because we were at [Olivet Nazarene University's] stadium field," Podlesh said. "We didn't have a goal post at the time because we had [offense and defense] out practicing.
"So he said to one of the ball boys, 'Just run down to the end line and put your arms up.' Like, to make a goal post. He was about 45 yards out. We do six or seven kicks in a row … and Robbie puts every single one of them between the kid's arms like 45 yards down the field."
Podlesh shook his head in disbelief.
"Those would be the greatest kicks I've ever seen," he said. "Didn't miss one."
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack
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