At least Cody Parkey didn’t have to kick in the snow.
The conditions were nearly perfect when the Chicago Bears kicker (for now, anyway) lined up to attempt a 43-yarder to win their Wild Card matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 6. We all know what happened next.
Fans on Twitter, who are the bravest and most confident souls in the known universe, were positive that a great injustice had been committed. After all, Parkey had already missed 10 kicks on the season. No matter that the ball, on closer inspection, was tipped. This was an “easy” kick. Anyone could make it.
That’s what Chicago-based Goose Island wanted to know. After Parkey’s miss seen ’round the world, the brewery decided to host a contest. What if, thought Zach Connelly, a Goose Island marketing employee, we gave these fans the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is? An event came together lightning fast after that, in which the brewery would host fans to try a 43-yard field goal on a regulation-size goal post it constructed outside its facility.
Initially, the prize was supposed to be free Goose Island beer for a year. But as Illinois state laws didn’t quite agree on that front, it was changed to offer the winner a chance for an all-expenses-paid trip to an NFL game of his or her choosing next season.
Far from challenging Parkey, the contest was, rather, done in the spirit of supporting him; of helping fans realize just how hard an NFL kicker’s job can be.
“If you’re a Chicago Bear, you’re a Chicagoan, and Chicago has done so much for us as a brewery over the 31 years we’ve been around,” Goose Island President Todd Ahsmann told FanSided. “I like to think that Chicagoans have the spirit of helping their neighbors and supporting each other, so as long as you’re playing for the Bears you’re a Chicagoan and we’re going to back you up.”
I’m a 5’4″ woman who has only ever played flag football. Naturally, I needed to go out and see if I could make this kick.
The morning of the contest, fluffy snowflakes blanketed Chicago. The kicks would be going straight into the wind. And hundreds of people would be watching each attempt.
The smallest NFL field goal kicker ever, to my knowledge, was Tad Weed, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 and stood 5’5″ and 140 pounds. Weed had one inch and a few pounds on me, but clearly, it’s not impossible for someone of my stature to make a 43-yard kick.
Of course, there’s the actual conditioning, training and practice to consider…nah. I could do this.
The morning of, as I waited to attempt my kick, I spoke to some other would-be NFL kickers assembled at Goose Island. Derek Peake, a Chicago resident, kicked in high school and got recruited to kick in college but decided to play baseball instead. He and his friend Kenny arrived at 10:45 am, but they were sadly too late to kick. People had been camped out in line with chairs since at least 7:00 am, and Goose Island had to limit the contest to 100 kickers due to the overwhelming attendance.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, especially with one attempt without a warm-up, it’s pretty hard,” Peake told FanSided. This was my chance to get some insider tips on how to successfully make my kick, so I asked Peake for a kicking mini-clinic.
“You wanna hit it with the side of your foot. The plant foot is a little ahead of the ball, and you have to have a lean to clear enough space,” Peake said. I did a mock kick, and he corrected my form. “You lean towards the plant leg. You have to kick straight through,” he said.
Confident in my form (read: not at all), I headed out into the snow to make my kick. I was feeling confident. I had instruction. I wore my very bouncy Nikes with the foam soles. And I had a crowd of people cheering for me. What could go wrong?
Okay, so I didn’t even clear the fence. Kicking is hard! But I made contact with the ball, and I didn’t slip and wipe out, as a shocking percentage of the kickers did in the slippery conditions.
In the end, not a single kick attempted by the 100 contestants and media members went in. But Goose Island, in lieu of a prize, offered to donate $20,000 to the charity of Parkey’s choice, and he chose Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago.
No one walked away a winner, but, at least for a few hours, Chicagoans were able to forget their playoff woes (and entertain delusions of grandeur). “This is a whole-city therapy session that’s going on right now,” Ahsmann said during the contest. And it was; all the smiling faces in the crowd just one week after the Bears’ ugly loss were proof enough of that.
But maybe those fans will remember their humbling experience next time they take to Twitter.