Kicking it up a notch

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- He's no Adam Vinatieri, but Peyton Manning ranks right up there among Bears kicker Robbie Gould's idols.

"He's the best guy in advertising," Gould says of the Colts quarterback and all-pro pitchman. "Every commercial he does is a hit."

Gould knows a little bit about being a hit.

The third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts), Gould has connected on 86.3 percent (113-of-131) of his field goal attempts. He is 3-for-3 this season, including the game-winning 44-yarder last Sunday against Pittsburgh with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. Better yet, the freckle-faced 27-year-old from Lock Haven, Pa., can be seen without his helmet on a current U.S. Cellular commercial as advertisers, the ultimate barometer of who and what's hot, have taken notice.

"You've got to have fun with it," says Gould, whom his teammates dubbed "The Mayor" for his winning personality not long after his arrival in Chicago in 2005. "That's what it's all about. If you're not enjoying the ride, obviously there are things you have to re-evaluate. But you don't know how long it's going to last, so you live it up for as long as you can 'til they throw you out."

Not likely anytime soon.

Gould's current streak of 14 straight field goals trails only his team-record 26 straight from December of '05 to November of '06. And last Sunday's game winner made him 20-of-21 for his career in the last two minutes of a half or in overtime. That's second only to Jason Elam since Gould has been in the league.

Nervous about the Bears' running game? Not sold on the secondary? Still not sure about using Devin Hester on returns?

Since Paul Edinger's 15-of-24 field goal total in 2004, Bears fans have had little to worry about in that department. Even coach Lovie Smith dropped the cliché "Good as Gould" at the postgame podium after the Steelers game. But for the most part, Gould is like the guy in stripes. If he does his job, you don't hear much.

"I don't know if people are taking more notice, but I'm supposed to go out there and do my job," Gould said. "I'm supposed to make kicks. If I start missing kicks, I'm not going to have a job for very long and one of my goals is to be the best to ever play the game."

Among current kickers, San Diego's Nate Kaeding is three-tenths of a percentage point ahead of Gould with 11 more career kicks. Mike Vanderjagt has 135 more kicks and is two-tenths better. Vinatieri, who has played in five Super Bowls and has four championship rings, made a major impact on Gould during the 2005 preseason when the two were briefly in New England together before Gould was waived by the Patriots.

Gould, the son of a professional soccer player who walked on at Penn State and never had a professional kicking coach before playing in the NFL, was working construction when the Bears brought him in for a tryout in October of '05.

"I wasn't supposed to be here more than three weeks," Gould recalled. "It was something I knew might not last so I had to take advantage of my opportunity."
With 25 years of NFL experience between them, Bears punter Brad Maynard, Gould's holder, and Patrick Mannelly, the Bears' long snapper, took immediate notice.

"The first day I saw him in camp, I thought he was one of the best I'd ever seen," said Maynard.

"Brad and I talk about it," said Mannelly. "The way the ball came off his foot, the height he got on his kick, everything was just different than the four or five other kickers in camp, and there were some established kickers. Your head rolls back at how good he was that day."

Gould should feel comfortable facing Seattle on Sunday, the team against which he enjoyed the highlight of his career when his game-winning field goal in overtime vaulted the Bears into the 2006 NFC Championship Game.

Afterward in the victorious locker room, Gould expressed embarrassment that he might have "celebrated maybe a little too much" after the kick. It's that attitude that endears him to his teammates, but it should not be mistaken for a lack of confidence.

"I believed I'd be playing in the NFL," Gould said. "I knew I had the ability to do it. It was just a matter of getting the right opportunity."

He gives credit to kickers Vinatieri and Josh Miller, former Pats long snapper Lonie Paxton, former Pats special-teams coach Brad Seely, and Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub, among others, for helping him.

"You don't get there by yourself, obviously," Gould said.

But once in Chicago, he admits no one could teach him how to kick in the treacherous conditions in Soldier Field.

"I think it's just kicking in it that you learn," he said. "It's nothing that you can really pinpoint as far as one person telling you something. [But] Brad and Pat have been awesome since day one; they've taken me under their wings.

"I don't think they get as much credit as they deserve for punting and holding, and much of my success depends on how they perform. You know [the ball is] going to be there, you know it's going to be down with the right lean and we've developed a great relationship to the point where all I have to worry about is swinging and picking my target."

Gould said his days as a caddie in high school helped teach him the necessary mechanics that carry over to kicking.

"Golf and kicking are very similar to one another," he said. "They have the same swing pattern, the same mentality, whether it's kicking an extra point or kicking a 50-yard field goal, when you start kicking too hard, you're going to start missing field goals and not have as much control."

Mannelly, a frequent golf partner of Gould's, doesn't know about that.

"But it's funny," he said, "he's getting better and better at golf also."

Gould's teammates appreciate that he's not a stereotypical kicker with strange superstitions and idiosyncrasies.

"You hear about stuff like kickers carrying around bags of shoes," said Mannelly. "It doesn't seem like he worries about his shoes too much. And he isn't like a pitcher who you can't talk to when he's throwing a no-hitter. He's just a normal guy."

A normal guy who may still not be in Manning's league as far as endorsements go, but is making strides with more TV and radio appearances.

"It comes like anything else," he said. "If you go out and perform well and you're presentable, there's going to be a company that's going to want you to advertise for them.

"I don't have a Twitter [account], I don't have a Facebook, I don't have the other stuff some other guys have. That's my way to market myself to the fans."

No arguments in the Bears' locker room.

"They should send some more [endorsements] his way," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "I think Robbie is on his way to another Pro Bowl. He should've been there last year and the year before [he made it in '07]. But especially this year, I think he's on his way."