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Posted: Nov 3 2010, 02:13 PM
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BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Gould remembers the phone call after the break that changed his brother's life.
''He told me he was going to kick against Cleveland,'' Robbie Gould's younger brother said of the day in 2005 when Robbie called him to say he'd be making his kicking debut for the Bears. ''I remember thinking that I would have to go to Buffalo Wild Wings on Sunday because nobody else will carry it. They set me up in the corner, the tiniest corner I'd ever been in. I sat there by myself and watched because everybody was either a Redskins or a Steelers fan.
''He got his break and made the best of it.''
Five years later, Chris is still waiting for his.
''It's tough,'' Robbie said. ''There are only so many jobs out there. Like anything else, you have to have one team fall in love with you. There are a lot of guys in the National Football League that he's definitely better than. Unfortunately, as of right now, he hasn't gotten a shot.''
The Bears fell in love with Robbie and fell hard. He's the most accurate kicker in team and NFL history. He is as close as it comes to automatic from inside the 40-yard line, having made 55 in a row. While most kickers are tolerated in NFL locker rooms, Gould is appreciated for his uncanny ability to put the ball through the uprights regardless of the conditions.
When it comes to the nomadic lives of kickers, however, it's Chris who's taking the more typical path, winding and littered with obstacles as it may be.
With opportunities becoming fewer and fewer, he's happy to have a job with the Arena Football League's Chicago Rush, even though he knows he's at the bottom of pro football's food chain.
"It's definitely hard to keep going,'' said Chris, who is three years younger than Robbie. ''We only make $400 a week, so a lot of guys have other jobs. Everybody is playing for a chance. You're playing for the hope that somebody sees you, for a chance to get to the next level. In the [AFL], it's more of a dire straits. It's a great opportunity to get exposure, but if you don't make it, there aren't any other places to play.''
Chris' feet hit first
It was Chris, not Robbie, who was first drawn to the football field. Robbie and Chris were soccer players first. Their father, Robert, played professionally in the 1980s. When Chris was in seventh grade, he got an opportunity to kick for the junior high football team.
Robbie started tagging along when Chris and their father had practice sessions. Before long, he was hooked and kicking for Central Mountain High in Mill Hall, Pa., and then Penn State.
Chris was the more highly recruited of the two and punted and kicked at Virginia.
''I decided I wanted to do it because we were brothers and competitive, and anything he could do, I could do better,'' Robbie said. ''He got me started in it. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be in this situation I'm in right now. He got asked first, and I decided I wanted to do it. There was an opportunity for me to kick on the high school team. Everything worked out from there.''
The brothers live together in the suburbs. When Robbie is kicking for the Bears, Chris is preparing for the AFL's spring season and watching his brother at Soldier Field. Robbie attends Chris' games at Allstate Arena. Chris works part-time and coaches a youth soccer team. Three years after graduating from college, he's not ready to give up on his dream -- even if he knows that all another solid season in the AFL might get him is an invitation to the United Football League or Canadian Football League and a chance to make it to the NFL from there.
Dad: Luck on Robbie's side
''Robbie was very, very fortunate to get the shot he got,'' Robert Gould said. ''He certainly wasn't one of those highly touted kickers who was invited to the combine. Christopher has waited longer. You have to keep knocking on the door and hoping somebody lets you in. Ninety-five percent of it is luck. The other 5 percent is performing when you have the opportunity.''
Although he knows he remains at least two rungs below the NFL, Chris isn't about to stop knocking. He may have to find another job someday, but not anytime soon.
''If you're going to do something as specialized as kicking, you can't have any doubts in your mind,'' he said. ''You have to believe in yourself fully. With all the ups and downs I've had, if I didn't believe in what I was doing, I would give up right away. It's a hard, long process, and a lot of people don't get in until they're 26 or 27 or they let their opportunity pass them by because they weren't ready, because they had taken a full-time job and weren't in great shape. I'll be ready.''