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The Return of Robbie Gould

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Just two months ago, Robbie Gould was the longest tenured Chicago Bear. Then he was gone. This weekend in the Meadowlands, Gould will line up in a Giants uniform to kick against his former team. Bears fans can’t wait.

Los Angeles Rams v New York Giants Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

“I still don’t get why we released Robbie.”

In all the Bears conversations I’ve had this season, that sentence — or some variation of it — is the one I’ve heard the most. Robbie Gould was the team’s longest tenured Bear. The team’s all-time leading scorer. A face of the franchise. Until one day he wasn’t.

And nobody knows why.

Okay that’s not true. We know exactly why. After making his first 17 field goals of 2015, Gould missed six of his next 15 including game-changing kicks in consecutive losses. He missed one this preseason too — not a good look for a kicker who’s brand is accuracy and dependability.

Also not a good look for the game’s second-highest paid kicker. So when Packers Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton and Saints kicker Connor Barth became available on consecutive days, the opportunity to use Gould’s contract to add Sitton with Barth as a stop gap was too good to pass.

Dan Pompei broke this down in The Athletic; combine that with the insights in this Ringer story about which positions NFL teams prioritize financially (spoiler: not kicker) plus Gould’s newfound fallibility, and we should not have been surprised when Gould was gone.

But that explains the “Why did they do it?” question.

What these pained Bears fans are really asking is the “How could they do it?” question.

Gould’s ex-teammates are asking too.

Those last three tweets are from Oct. 9, when Barth missed a key kick late in the third quarter of what became a close loss to the Colts. Barth started on shaky ground with Bears fans — he replaced a legend at the last minute, missed his first field goal in a Bears uniform and started his Bears career 4-7 on field goals.

But he hit a field goal in the Colts game after the miss, the first of his eight straight he’s made as the Bears prepare to face Gould and the Giants on Sunday.

All told, Barth is perfect on his PATs this season and has made 80% of his field goals, a number on the rise that could reasonably catch Gould’s 84.6% mark from last year. Sitton, meanwhile, has played well when he has played.

It’s fair to say that the moves have worked out for the Bears. Still, the disdain Bears fans have for the move is not necessarily football-related. It’s about missing a familiar face and a pillar of consistency. It’s about the passion Gould showed for the franchise, the kind that would lead him to tweet this photo in the week leading up to a game against his former team:

During his 11 seasons in Chicago, Gould was a rarity in more ways than one. He spent most of his career as one of the three to five most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history (he is now 8th). He was a team leader beyond his ability to kick field goals. He was a team captain. After starting his career with a reputation as an inside-the-40 guy, he set a Bears franchise record with 23 successful field goals from 50 or more yards.

And he hit one of the most memorable kicks in Bears history, the 49-yarder that sent the team to the NFC championship.

That kick was an oath to Bears fans. Don’t worry everybody, he told us. You can trust me. I’ve got this. Even during his struggles last year, Bears fans still had Robbie’s back.

He remains a fan favorite in Chicago. Look at the replies on the above tweet — they’re all from Bears fans saying they miss him. We’ve been sending him those messages all season.

And why not? Gould was an all-time great Bear, and someone who despite his struggles last year was still a productive player with a future in this league. Sunday’s game will be a rarity for Bears fans, too — Gould will be only the third Bears kicker in the past 50 years to face his old mates. George Blanda went 4-4 on PATs against the Bears in 1972 with the Raiders, and Paul Edinger went 3-5 in two games with the Vikings in 2005.

Forget about kickers though — Gould is one of the highest profile Bears players to face the Bears in my life, right there with Devin Hester’s Falcons hosting the Bears in 2014 and Mongo McMichael’s two games against the Bears with the Packers in 1994.

As far as painful performances on the field, nothing as of now tops ex-Bear Bernard Berrian burning the Bears in 2008 for a division-changing 99-yard touchdown pass in his first season away from Chicago.

A game against Gould has the potential for an even more startling event. Can you imagine Robbie drilling a game-winner against us?

I can.

It would be the first time Bears fans would be happy for an opposing kicker knocking us out, even while we were simultaneously furious with the outcome. Whether in the Navy and Orange or the Big Blue, Chicago’s love for Robbie Gould is a horse of a different color.