Other than during the morrass Dave Wannstedt created for himself when he axed Chicago Bears legend Kevin Butler in 1996, which carried over to the Jauron regime, the Bears have been blessed to have some solid kickers. And after Robbie Gould’s career is complete, he may end up being judged as the best ever.
(Please note in these articles, the “interesting mention” players are not considered top at the position, just an interesting side note to the discussion).
Candidates: Kevin Butler (1985-1995); Paul Edinger (2000-2004); Robbie Gould (2005-present); Jeff Jaeger (1996-1999); Bob Thomas (1975-1994)
Interesting Mention: In 1981, solid seventh-year kicker Bob Thomas suffered a hamstring injury and was lost for the season. The Bears first tried to replace Thomas with Hans Nielsen, a Dane who kicked at Michigan State and made his pro debut that season at 29 years old. He lasted three games and was replaced by tire salesman John Roveto. New head coach Mike Ditka actually felt that Roveto was a better kicker than Thomas, cutting the future Illinois Supreme Court Justice. Thomas went on to play two games in 1982 with the Detroit Lions. And in December of that year, Ditka realized the error of his ways, cutting Roveto and bringing back Thomas. This was after Roveto converted field goals at only a 30.8% rate (this compared with 63.2% over his career for Thomas).
Former Raider Jeff Jaeger, who finished his career with the Bears, is fifth on this list. Following the unexpected 1996 sacrifice of Butler for unknown (and horrible) Carlos Huerta, Wannstedt was fortunate that Oakland had just released their long-time kicker in favor of Cole Ford. Yes, the Cole Ford that later went nuts and fired into Siegfried and Roy’s house. Jaeger was solid for the Bears from 1996-1998. In 1999, he developed a nagging leg injury, forcing a comical cavalcade of replacement attempts, none successful. He showed up at Bears camp in 2000 to complete against draftee Paul Edinger, but quickly realized he was done. Not counting his poor 25% conversion rate on field goals in 1999 due to the injury, Jaeger converted a sharp 81% of his tries in his 2+ seasons as a Bear.
Paul Edinger comes in as the fourth best Chicago Bears kicker since 1977. Called “slingblade” by some not due to his unorthodox leg swing but for his vocal comparison to Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Edinger was a welcome addition following 1999′s troubles at the position. Not counting his dropping conversion percentage in 2004, he converted a respectable 78.1% of his tries from 2000-2004, including a red-hot 83.9% in the 2001 playoff season. And several of his kicks will be remembered for years, such as the 55-yard boot that beat the Lions in the 2000 season finale. But after signing a large contract extension with the team, Edinger’s play dropped precipitously. In 2004 his average slipped to 62.5%, and the following season he was released without the Bears having a proven replacement. Which worked out for the Bears in the end.
Our third best kicker since 1977 is Bob Thomas, who came to the Bears along with the legendary 1975 rookie class that included Walter Payton, Mike Hartenstine, Doug Plank, Bob Avellini and others. Thomas was a solid kicker and ranks third on the Bears all-time scoring list with 629 points and a 63.2% career field goal conversion percentage. It was a bittersweet moment in 1985 when Thomas was cut after the Bears drafted Butler in the fourth round, but again, that move worked out.
Coming in at second is the Bears’ current extremely reliable kicker, Robbie Gould. A Penn State graduate, Gould was working construction when Jerry Angelo’s staff called him in 2005 to try out. The team found itself in this position after replacing Edinger with formerly reliable Doug Brien. But in three games, Brien made just one of four field goal attempts. In an open competition for the job, Gould beat the incumbent. What he has gone on to do is remarkable. Not necessarily in his rookie year, however. That season Gould actually missed an extra point attempt and “only” converted 77.8% of his field goal attempts. But in 2006 he was named all-pro, completing 88.9% of his attempts and leading the NFC in scoring with 143 points, one shy of the all-time Bears season scoring record. While he hasn’t been named to another Pro Bowl (why?) his career completion percentage of 85.5% is third best in NFL history, best in Bears history. Funny, when Brien faltered in 2005 I was hoping that Gould would be a stop-gap until the Bears could re-sign Edinger. Thank God he has continued to blow away the record books.
As good as Gould is (always have to say no pun intended), it is still too early for him to best Kevin Butler as the Bears’ best kicker since 1977. Butler played eleven seasons for the Bears and is their all-time leader in points scored with 1,116. His field goal conversion percentage of 73.4% as a Bear pales in comparison to Gould’s, but consider that Butler attempted 42 kicks of longer than 50 yards to Gould’s six attempts. Butler was an all-around good guy who tried to immerse himself in the culture of the offensive linemen, but his career was not without controversy. Prior to the 1991 season while in the midst of contentious contract negotiations, Butler was arrested for DUI, but this fact was not revealed until after a new contract was signed, angering Bears management (read Armen Keteyian’s “Monster of the Midway” for details). And in 1996, Wannstedt seemed hell-bent on replacing Butler despite the kicker hitting on his second-best percentage of his career since 1989. Chicago was shocked that training camp when the coach/personnel man axed the local favorite for Huerta, the unknown. And the rest is Chicago Bears History.