Call it the curse of Robbie Gould.
Ever since Ryan Pace let the popular kicker go in a bid to save some money, the Chicago Bears have gone through more kickers than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands.
Gould eventually landed in San Francisco, and has continued to be one of the NFL’s premier kickers, while Halas Hall has served as a revolving door of sorts. Names like Connor Barth, Mike Nugent, Elliott Fry, the aptly named Chris Blewitt, and who can forget the ill-fated Cody Parkey, of double-doink fame.
Chicago even traded a draft pick to Oakland to obtain Eddy Piñero. It looked like their fortunes were turning around until Piñero got hurt this season.
Enter Cairo Santos, an undrafted free agent from Tulane, who’s kicked for six different NFL teams, including a previous cup of coffee with the Bears back in 2017.
This time around, Santos made the most of his second chance, and may have finally killed the curse. Through fifteen games this season, he has made 27 of 29 field goal attempts and converted 35 of 36 extra points.
“My confidence in Cairo is high. It really is. I have trust in him. It’s always been that way with him. Even from the very first day he got here.”-Matt Nagy
Special teams coach Chris Tabor is very complimentary, “He’s done a great job. He’s a true pro’s pro. Very methodical and analytical with regards looking at things, and he’s willing to change. And that’s what I appreciate about him. He’s gotten better each and every week.”
Santos’ path to the National Football League is a most unlikely one. Like most kids who grew up in soccer mad Brazil, he wanted to play the national sport.
“It all started in Brazil, playing soccer my entire life. When I was fifteen, I was playing really competitive in some youth divisions of professional soccer teams. But I didn’t get to start because of how competitive soccer is down there.” So instead, he enrolled in an one year exchange program that brought him to the United States to try his skills here. “My friends and my host brother saw how well I could strike a ball. One day we were throwing a football outside of our house. I couldn’t throw the football in a spiral and they said, ‘ Well, you should kick it.’ They held it down, and I kicked it like four houses down. It went like sixty yards, approximately. I asked them if that was good. The next day after school there was a football practice and they talked to the coach, about ‘this Brazilian kid who plays soccer and he can kick a ball.’ So they said ‘Let’s see.’ I just kept kicking, and they backed me up to fifty yards, and I made a fifty-yarder that first day. So they said. ‘You’re on the team. You’re playing Friday!’
Santos promptly went out and got a hold of a Madden NFL video game to familiarize himself with the rules of the game. The team also had a coach stand next to him on the sidelines, so he knew when to go in and kick. “A light bulb just went on. I was trying to come here and play soccer and ultimately be an athlete at the collegiate level, but football was a path that just opened for me.”
That path was at Tulane, where Santos was all-conference as a freshman, and in 2012 a consensus All- American, receiving the Lou Groza Award as the top placekicker in the country.
Santos was signed by Kansas City as an undrafted free agent. He had three good seasons in KC before getting hurt in 2017. Santos finished the year in Chicago on injured reserve after a groin injury in week 13 sidelined him. Next he landed briefly in New York, before hooking up with the Los Angeles Rams, but was released after their primary kicker, Greg Zuerlein, returned to active play. He finished the 2018 season in Tampa. Santos started 2019 in Tennessee, but the Titans released him after a particularly bad performance in week five.
In 2020, he was signed by Chicago for his second tour of duty as backup to Piñeiro. When Eddy got hurt just before the season opener, Cairo finally had the opportunity he was seeking, and made the most of it, making two field goals and converting all three extra point attempts.
Santos talked about overcoming the injuries. “Health wise, I had doubts because of how long it was taking to get to full strength, to full health. Sometimes I doubted I could get to where I finally got today. Confidence wise, I could kick the same. I always believed in myself. That I could kick as well as I’m kicking now, and once kicked in my prime. I just took me way longer than I had ever heard of.”
Cairo has remained healthy, and nailed down the starting job in Chicago, which is not one of the easiest places to kick successfully.
He was asked earlier this season about how he deals with the notoriously erratic wind conditions at Soldier Field. Santos explained that it’s about “the contact you make with the ball. It’s about the RPM’s, spinning really fast. It cuts better. A high kick stays straighter, but you can’t get as much distance. A low kick goes farther, but it can hook and fade easier. It all depends on the strike of the ball. Focusing on the sweet spot. It don’t try to manipulate much with the trajectory. Just the sweet spot.”
He still follows soccer, something he enjoys watching more than American football. “I love soccer. My number one passion. I feel like I watch football just to watch kicks, and the kickers that I follow. In soccer, I actually enjoy watching the game, and keeping up with the Brazilian players. I got to meet (Paris St. Germain and national team star) Neymar a few years ago.
“It’s a dream to play in the NFL, and even though I’ve done it for seven seasons now, it doesn’t get old,” notes Santos. “It’s always one year after another trying to prove yourself. I love to compete.The last couple of years I feel like I had to compete against myself. Trying to establish myself again. So that’s kind of what I’m most satisfied with. Every game is another challenge, so I got to keep attacking with the same focus and mentality because I still want to keep playing here for a long time.”
Bears fans are certainly hoping for both.