By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – In 2014, Cody Parkey was on top of the world. As a rookie kicker for the Eagles he broke the NFL all-time rookie scoring record with 150 points and looked like he was on his way towards morphing into one of the league’s best kickers.
He had the confidence. He had the leg. And he had an organization that believed in him. Early on in the following season, Parkey injured his groin and was subsequently released not soon after. The memories of his success having decisively faded away.
The mind and life of a kicker in this game can turn on a dime.
For the next year, Parkey struggled to find a footing with another team. When you’re a kicker that’s gone out of favor in coaching circles, you’re an afterthought. Someone has to give you a chance more than you reaching out. It can be lonely and harrowing.
That someone for Parkey was Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, who, before joining Chicago, was the longtime head specialists man for the Cleveland Browns. In 2016 with the Browns needing a kicker after an ironic injury to their starter, Tabor tabbed Parkey as his replacement. That decision was the baseline for Parkey to have renewed faith in the player he can be.
“He gave me a shot in Cleveland,” Parkey told me. “And I wanted to work with him again.”
You don’t often hear special teams coordinators outright praised like that save for the selective greats. The special teams fraternity is a quirky bunch and one that’s very different from the main offensive and defensive sides of the ball. There’s only so much these coaches can do and only so many plays they can use to impact the game.
But Tabor means everything to Parkey because Tabor’s the one that allowed him to climb back into the NFL. He’s the person that believed the Parkey of 2014 was still there when everyone else didn’t. He’s the person who extended a hand to Parkey’s career when everyone else scoffed and crossed their arms at the thought.
“He just believed in me. He could’ve easily gotten someone else,” Parkey said. “He trusted me enough to come in there (Cleveland) and here (Chicago) and dial it up for him. For that, I’m very blessed and thankful.”
What prompted Tabor to bring Parkey with him to Chicago this time around wasn’t merely familiarity. It was renewed ability The Bears needed a reliable kicker to help salvage points when their hopeful high-powered offense under Matt Nagy can’t punch it in. The Parkey of old starting to peek through the cracks with the Dolphins last season was clearly the man for the job.
In 2017, Parkey attempted 23 field goals for Miami. He only missed two of them: a 91.3 make percentage good for seventh in the NFL. In the clutch, Parkey made three game-winners for the Dolphins, two of them in the closing minutes against the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Jets.
While he didn’t receive the same volume of opportunities as he did years earlier in Philadelphia, Parkey made every play count. When the bell rang, he was ready. He was again one of the best and most accurate kickers in football. His redemption was complete.
It’s these moments that he can’t help but be satisfied.
“It’s refreshing to look back and realize it all worked out,” said Parkey, reflecting on his comeback. “It was refreshing,” he emphasized.
Any time you’re attempting to be the next Robbie Gould, a kicker the Bears have struggled to adequately replace since 2016, you’re going to run into issues. Because kickers like Gould only come around once in a blue moon. Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer, set a “Gould” standard at the position and was often the best offensive weapon not named Matt Forte or Devin Hester for Lovie Smith’s defensive Bears teams.
Gould was a team favorite. He was a fan favorite. And he’s arguably the greatest kicker in Bears history. That’s a lot to live up to.
This early in the summer, Parkey isn’t going to feel the pressure of finally filling the void for the Bears after their legendary kicker. Simulated situations with no defense can’t compare to 60,000-plus people watching your leg in bated anticipation.
But when the lights come on, and particularly when the Bears are playing at home at Soldier Field, the microscope will be on Parkey. Every time he makes a kick there’ll be no complaints. Every time he misses a kick he’s going to be relentlessly scrutinized. Every kicker gets this same treatment, but Parkey’s will be exacerbated especially after a lucrative four-year, $15 million dollar deal signed in the off-season. Because after Gould, there’s a high bar to clear for satisfaction in Chicago, and a tremendously low bar for disappointment.
Parkey isn’t concerned with the coming scrutiny. He understands why Gould is revered. He knows he has a lot of work to do to become the consistent kicker the Bears have been missing for awhile now.
“He was a great kicker here. He earned his right to have his name brought up every time there’s a new kicker here,” said Parkey. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Ultimately, Parkey isn’t concerned with comparing himself to Gould. That’s a fruitless endeavor. He’s focused on making his own special legacy with the Bears.
“There’s no pressure here,” Parkey reiterated. “I’m not Robbie, I’m Cody, and I’m just going to go out there and play my ball.” R.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. He’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.