ATLANTA — Robbie Gould wants his sons to love the city that embraced his family. He wants them to root for the Blackhawks and Bulls, the White Sox and Bears, in good times and bad.
That’s why, after living apart from his family during the season, the 49ers kicker came home to Chicago in January and took his sons to the Bears’ playoff game against the Eagles. It was the first time Gould had been to Soldier Field as a fan.
He was a witness to Cody Parkey’s infamous double-doink. Depending on how this offseason shakes out, that kick either could be the impetus for Gould’s return or just another example of Bears incompetence in his absence.
“You don’t ever want a fellow kicker to miss,” Gould said Friday in Atlanta, where he’s a candidate for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to be announced Saturday. “You don’t ever want a fellow kicker to go through what he went through.”
It could lead to a Gould homecoming. Or not.
Friday, the 36-year-old made the 49ers sound like his likely destination. He’ll become a free agent on March 13 unless the 49ers re-sign him or assign him the franchise tag. They have between Feb. 19 and March 5 to do the latter.
“Obviously I still have an affinity for the city of Chicago,” Gould said while helping other Payton Award nominees build a playground at Warren Boys and Girls Club. “I really enjoy playing for San Francisco. They have exclusive rights to talk to me until free agency opens up. I think there’s a mutual understanding of wanting to go back there, but I’ve been through free agency before and you never know what’s going to happen.
“They’ve said they want to bring me back, obviously. At some point we have to negotiate a contract. . . . When the time’s right, they’ll do that and we’ll figure it out. If not, we’ll figure it out.”
If Gould does ends up as a free agent, he would find the Bears intriguing. His family still lives here and will continue to do so after he retires. If he signs a long-term contract, though, he plans on taking his family with him to that city.
“I’d like to be next to my family,” he said. “Those are things that will play a big part in free agency, for sure, if I ended up getting there.”
Gould, who drove to Atlanta on Wednesday after a series of flight cancellations in Chicago, was careful when talking about the Bears. He’s not a free agent yet, and the Bears still employ Parkey. In fact, Gould argued that continuity might be the best thing for the Bears.
“The issue is, there’s been a lot of turnover,” he said. “There’s not a lot of growth. There’s not a lot of flexibility to bring everybody in and keep them together and go through some of those growing pains.
“So you can’t just say, ‘Hey, Cody had a bad year and let’s get rid of him.’ I think it’s a situation where you have to stick with him and let him grow.
“Everyone has, at times, a bad year. The next year you work harder. You bounce back. He could be one of the greatest kickers to ever kick in Bears history.”
More likely, though, he’s headed out of town after missing 11 kicks and angering his bosses by appearing on the “Today” show five days after he missed the potential game-winning 43-yard field-goal attempt.
“Does it really matter to how he kicked or his football career that he went on a morning show? Probably not,” said Gould, who met Parkey before the Bears-49ers game in December. “But that’s what we like to talk about and that’s what we like to do in Chicago. We like to have these stories of competitive newspapers and radio stations. But I get it. I’m sure he would have loved to have made the kick.”
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When general manager Ryan Pace cut him on the eve of the 2016 season, Gould reworked his swing and waited for the perfect opportunity to return.
After making all 10 field-goal attempts with the Giants, he signed a two-year deal with the 49ers. He missed two field goals in 41 tries in 2017. Last year was the best of his career; he made 33 of 34 field goals.
Gould said that Soldier Field “is not an easy place to kick,” and he’s right. From 2005-15, he was the rare Bears kicker to conquer it.
Whether he gets another chance will be sorted out in the next month or so.
“There’s probably a lot of hoopla going on, I’m sure,” Gould said. “I love the city of Chicago. Chicago will always be home, no matter what.’’