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Should a kicker be a captain? And other thoughts on Robbie Gould

Robbie Gould: Record setter, game winner, jokester, captain. Which one is not like the others? Fresh off Gould's NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award and heading into Kansas City, we take a closer look at the longest-tenured active Chicago Bear and ask two questions: Should a kicker be a captain? And why the heck not?

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The first time Robbie Gould piqued my curiosity beyond his abilities to drill kicks was when he teased reporters as they failed to secure an interview with an elusive Devin Hester.

In the 2012 season when I covered the team for RedEye, the 45-minute open locker room media session was a sparse affair. Most players spent that time anywhere but — particularly areas off limits to press. Lots would be in the cafeteria. Plenty were in the weight room, accessed by walking through a door at the back of the rectangular locker room. I tried to interview a player once only to be told he was sleeping.

Players would drift in and out of the room, so for my purposes of interviewing any player, high profile or not, it was perfect. For more traditional Bears outlets, especially TV stations, open locker was a roller coaster of sharpen-your-elbows scrum interviewing surrounded by endless downtime. I remember counting one time a ratio of media members to players that was literally 35 to zero.

One of the guys who did hang around regularly was Robbie. He seemed friends with everyone, from teammates of all ages to older or longer-tenured media to equipment guys to team PR. He was also more of a jokester than I'd realized and, like many players, enjoyed ribbing the press corps, whether interrupting other people's interviews (like here) or simply teasing the pack for group inefficiencies.

Such was the case during one typical open locker room session, when the ratio was probably 35 to four. The media members — reporters and camera crew — were either seated talking to players on or off the record, or standing around talking to each other, checking their phones, etc., when Hester entered from the weight room. He was wearing head phones and, with his eyes down, headed straight for his locker.

I'm sure some print reporters stood, but what I remember was the flurry of TV reporters and cameras catapulting into action like a person finally called at the DMV. Since Jay, Brandon, Briggs and Urlacher did weekly press conferences and hence were not obligated to speak in the locker room, Hester, Tillman, Pep and Forte were at the time the four biggest locker room ‘gets.'

But Devin is quiet, and may have even been wearing a hoodie — whatever the case, he was practically finished at his locker by the time reporters realized it was him. They were scrambling to get to him but he'd grabbed whatever one item he needed and was already heading back to the weight room. It was one fluid move: open door, walk to locker, grab something and turn.

That's when Robbie started yelling from his locker on the other side of the room, "And there goes Hester! Look at him go! The speed! The moves!"

It got a laugh among at least some reporters, myself included, and was one of the standout, "Wait, who IS that guy?" moments that comes from seeing the same group of players a few times a week for several months.

Others came from watching him interact with teammates on a football level. I enjoy writing about the mentoring relationships between older and younger players at the same position, and with no other placekicker on the 53-man roster, I started wondering how Robbie, an eight-year veteran at that point, imparted his accrued wisdom, and to whom.

The jokester and mentor material ended up in one of my favorite stories I've ever written anytime for any pub, a four-part profile on Robbie that closed with an anecdote from Adam Podlesh about Robbie drilling 45-yard field goals in practice over a makeshift goalpost — i.e. a ball boy holding his arms over his head.

One of the other parts of the profile was "Robbie the Organizer," about how he organized a weekly special teams dinner to build camaraderie in a naturally disparate group. I thought of that last month while debating online and via text with my friend Shaun Davis, who co-hosts the WGN podcast Down and Distance with Jarrett Payton, son of Walter.

Shaun and JP were debating Robbie's captainship, and whether a kicker should ever be a captain. Jarrett's argument was that Robbie has a resume and players respect his work, his experience and his achievements.

Shaun's argument was more about the Bears than about Gould — that a kicker as a captain speaks ill of a team's overall talent level, and hence is a harbinger for a failed season.

My counter argument was that the Bears went six straight years with a long snapper as captain, a stretch which included a division title. And no offense to Pat Mannelly, but I don't have a treasure trove of Pat Mannelly football memories.

I have approximately one bajillion of Gould, a number that reached one-bajillion-and-one last Sunday when he went three-for-three on field goals, including his franchise-best 19th 50-yarder and later his 11th career game-winning kick, which I define as any kick in the game's final two minutes that provides the team's final points plus the game's point difference.

The winner was Gould's ninth field goal in 2015. He had nine all of last year, far and away his career low.

Even at nine-for-nine in 2015, Robbie hasn't been perfect. After going seven straight seasons without a missed extra point, he's missed one in each of the past three seasons, including last week. Before this year he'd had only one non-onside kick returned for a touchdown. He's had two in the first three weeks of this season.

But as the saying goes, great players aren't always great — only great when they have to be. Kickers have to be great when they're lining up for field goals, not kickoffs or PATs. Robbie's defacto predecessor Paul Edinger never missed an extra point in his career but lost his job because he made only 75 percent of his field goals.

Robbie doesn't miss. Not historically, not when it matters, and literally not this season — he is one of only four players in 2015 perfect on field goals with at least nine attempts.

Thirty-five times in his career plus once in the playoffs he has scored more points than the Bears won by. That was the case last week vs. Oakland, in a performance that earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. (Video highlights.)

The captainship debate is a good one. I haven't reached a conclusion. Shaun has a point regarding team talent level, yet just because neither of us could find or recall a good team with a kicker captain (Vinatieri was never one in New England, for instance), that doesn't mean it hasn't happened, nor does it mean that it wouldn't be reasonable if it did happen.

This season, though, the stats back Shaun. Five teams including the Bears have kickers as captains. Those teams are a combined 7-13. Their winning percentage of 35 percent is the lowest of any group of teams ordered by the type of special teamers they have as captains.

Teams with punters as captains (there are six) are 10-14, or 41.7 percent. Teams with long snappers as captains (Arizona and the Giants) are 5-3.

Teams that either choose captains weekly or have no special teamers as captains (11 teams) are 22-21. The best group easily is the one with "position players" as special teams captains, i.e. returners or coverage guys. That would be the Falcons, Cardinals, Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, Pats, Steelers, Chargers and Bucs, a combined 24-11 this year, or 68.6 percent.

The Bears, of course, are 1-3, and this week play the 1-3 Chiefs, whose special teams captain is punter Dustin Colquitt. Like Gould, Colquitt's been on his respective team his entire career. Like Gould, Colquitt joined his team in 2005. Like Gould, Colquitt is a one-time Pro Bowler.

Is life in the NFL easy for kickers (because they take relatively no hits) or hard (because they are judged on relative few plays)? We can debate that along with the merits of kicker captains.

What clearly is not up for debate is that Robbie Gould is a Bears game-changer, and has been pretty much since the day ten years ago tomorrow when he replaced a floundering Doug Brien and played his first of now 154 games in the Navy & Orange.

Game 155 is Sunday. I'll take the Bears on the road, 27-20. After last night's Cubs win plus the Raiders W, I'm riding the high with our beloved Bears and not looking back. Good as Gould, baby. Good as Gould.