As Bears’ Cody Parkey surely knows, NFL kickers exist to be tolerated, then cut
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Imagine having a job in which you were voted Most Likely to Be Fired the first time you walked through the door.
Imagine being the brother in a self-described band of brothers who, if everyone in the group were honest, isn’t really considered family by the others.
Imagine working as hard as you can and still being looked upon by your co-workers as lesser.
This is the life of the typical NFL kicker. Don’t feel bad for him. He gets paid well for being an outlander, a potential scapegoat and an occasional hero.
Cody Parkey received $9 million in guaranteed money when he signed with the Bears in the offseason, so really, really don’t feel bad for him. But he’s on the hot seat, in the crosshairs and under fire for missing four kicks last week — two field-goal attempts and two extra-point attempts — each of which amazingly hit an upright. He can’t afford to have another bad game Sunday against the Vikings. Everyone will be watching or unable to bear to watch.
Kickers have one thing to do. When they don’t do it, it’s as obvious as a witch’s mole. When the Bears cut Connor Barth after he missed a tying field-goal attempt last season against the Lions, the only thing that was missing was the altar for the sacrificial lamb. He was hardly the only reason the Bears were 3-7, but when a coach wants to send a message about accountability, the kicker often is the only one held accountable.
A lot of this has to do with what kickers look like. They look like you and me and possibly your primary-care physician. They do not look like NFL players. Parkey is listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds, as opposed to Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who is 6-5 and 332 pounds of definitely-not-a-kicker.
Fair or unfair, here’s what other football players see when they look at kickers: men who spend a game periodically booting footballs while the rest of the team runs, hits, gets hit and gets run over. It’s what union stagehands must think when they’re huffing and puffing a set into place while the lead in ‘‘Guys and Dolls’’ is administering an herbal spray to his throat.
Kickers want to work hard. It’s not a character defect. What they do doesn’t involve heavy lifting, only heavy pressure. The reason kickers and golfers often are compared is because some of the same swing mechanics are involved and because their crafts are all about repetition. (Golfers: also not tough guys, though a sunburn sometimes can be very painful.)
Kickers and punters normally are the first ones on the field before a game and at halftime. During games, they kick into nets to stay loose. From a perception standpoint, the problem is that it doesn’t look like labor; it looks like a driving range.
After his disaster last week, Parkey went out of his way to describe his work ethic for reporters.
‘‘I pride myself on not just being a kicker that shows up for 20 minutes and leaves,’’ he said. ‘‘I study film. I watch myself kick a bunch. I take notes. I kick a lot. I’m really confident in myself. So on a day like this, I can hold my head high, just knowing I tried my best.’’
You can’t help but shake the feeling that other players, with blood and grass stains on their pants, see kickers in clean uniforms and want to hammer them into the ground like tent stakes after a missed field goal.
After a bad loss to the Dolphins in 2014, former Bears receiver and me-first trailblazer Brandon Marshall could be heard in the locker room screaming dismissively at then-Bears kicker Robbie Gould, ‘‘You just kick the ball!’’ and ‘‘Do your job!’’ Interpretation: Stay in your lane — the lane that says, ‘‘Kickers speak only when spoken to.’’’
When it’s time to point the finger in the NFL, it often gets pointed at the kicker. A receiver can drop two passes in a game, and he’s not likely to get cut for it. A quarterback can overthrow two wide-open receivers in the end zone, and he almost surely won’t get waived. A kicker misses two field-goal attempts, and his coach won’t rule out the possibility of bringing in kickers for tryouts the next week.
That’s how it works. Coaches in all sports like to say one play doesn’t decide a game. A game wasn’t lost because an opponent stripped the point guard of the ball in the waning seconds or because the pitcher hung a curveball that became the game-winning home run. But football coaches look at kickers differently, possibly because kickers don’t look like the rest of the team.
The Bears have a lot of money invested in Parkey, and it would be a tough, expensive pill to swallow if they decided to cut him. But if there’s one thing we know about the history of kickers in the NFL, it’s that the Bears won’t need much of an excuse to kick him to the curb.
That’s why the eyes of fans and teammates will be on him Sunday. Or hidden behind their hands.