SANTA CLARA — Nice day, ain’t it, Robbie Gould?
“Because it’s 75 degrees, sunny and awesome?” he replied.
The veteran kicker was standing just off the 49ers practice field last week under the kind of afternoon sky you see in lemonade commercials.
It hasn’t always been this way. Before arriving in Santa Clara, Gould spent the bulk of his career in Chicago.
You know, the Windy City.
“Oh, man,” Gould said, as if shaking off a chill. “I’ve kicked in snowstorms. We had a tornado come through Chicago once when we played Baltimore. We got delayed for three hours. The field was a mess.”
When the Metrodome roof collapsed in 2010, Gould kicked outdoors in Minnesota … in December. With a wind chill of 9 and fans flinging snowballs from the seats, Gould went 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts. (An occasion better remembered as the last game of Brett Favre’s career.)
By comparison, kicking in the Bay Area climate ought to be a breeze. And Gould already ranks as one of the most accurate long-range kickers of all-time. He is 23 of 31 on attempts of 50 yards or more in his career for a 74.2 percent success rate that ranks second to Matt Prater (80.0 percent) in NFL history.
TOP CAREER FIELD GOAL PCT. ON ATTEMPTS OF 50+ (MIN. 20 FGM)
Player FG/FGA (Pct.)
1. Matt Prater 36 for 45 (80.0)
2. Robbie Gould 23 for 31 (74.2)
3. Jeff Wilkins 26 for 36 (72.2)
4t. Rob Bironas 24 for 34 (70.6)
4t. Blair Walsh 24 for 34 (70.6)
Prater enjoys the good fortune of kicking in Denver’s thin air. But Gould, 34, said his experience playing in treacherous weather forced him to become a better kicker: “I had to worry about making sure my technique is perfect.”
Now, he gets to play at Levi’s Stadium, where the winds are fickle but hardly fierce.
“The difference here is that it kind of swirls, so you’re not going to see the normal ball flight you would normally see,” he said. “It took me a little while to get used to it.”
Funny as it sounds, Gould said a different sport helped deepen his understanding of how to battle the elements. He is an avid golfer whose handicap hovers around 2. He has hosted several celebrity golf tournaments for his Goulden Touch Foundation. Over the years, he has also twice played rounds with Dell Curry, the father of another Bay Area athlete who dabbles in golf.
As it turns out, Gould’s golf swing and leg swing have a lot in common. It’s just that instead of yelling “Fore!” he can yell “Three!”
“It’s very similar,” the kicker said. “The harder you swing, the more erratic you’re going to be. I learn a lot in golf with winds and how to play them and how to use your hips.
“Field goal kicking is the same. It’s the same kind of techniques. Sometimes you’re playing it right to left and picking out a point for your kicks.”
After 11 seasons in Chicago, where he left as the Bears’ all-time leader in points, Gould spent 10 games last season with the New York Giants. He was 10 for 10 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards.
The 49ers signed him two a two-year, $4 million contract in March to replace Phil Dawson in the role of the Old Man Kicker.
How vintage is Gould? Four days before he was born on Dec. 6, 1982, Joe Montana out-dueled Vince Ferragamo as the 49ers beat the Rams 30-24.
Growing up in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, Gould prepared for Mother Nature by battling his brother. It’s a rivalry they renewed last weekend when Chris Gould, who is 3 years younger, was in town as the Denver Broncos’ assistant special teams coach.
Chris recalled a childhood in which there were very few timeouts.
“It was super competitive,” he said. “It didn’t matter if it was basketball, checkers, video games. We both hate to lose, and we’re sore losers at that.
“So can you imagine being in that household when we were younger? Mom and Dad had their hands full.”
Actually, it helped that his parents were in on the act. Robert was a three-time soccer All-American who won a Division II national title with Lock Haven University in 1980.
“And when we played board games, I think my mom (Cheryl) was more competitive,” Chris said. “We were all vying for that No. 1 spot. It spreads around.”
With help from dad, who took his sons to practice field goals at 6 in the morning before classes at Central Mountain High School, Robbie and Chris both wound up kicking professionally. (Chris kicked for four Arena League teams).
Robbie Gould went undrafted out of Penn State before the New England Patriots signed him for training camp in 2005. That was long enough for Gould to go toe to toe with Adam Vinatieri, one of the best kickers of all-time.
“He was great. I learned what it’s like to be a very successful Hall of Fame type kicker in the NFL,” Gould says now. “For me, it was a great opportunity and I soaked up as much as I could.”
Now, as he enters his 13th season, Gould has his own accomplishments to savor. He was first-team All-Pro in 2006 and ranks as the Bears’ franchise leader in scoring (1,207), field goals (276), consecutive made field goals (26) and field-goal percentage (85.4).
There is more in the tank. This interview was delayed for nearly an hour because Gould stepped off the practice field and went directly to the weight room for more work.
“I don’t think like a kicker,” he explained. “I think like a quarterback or a receiver or a defensive end. I think that’s kind of why I’ve been able to have some success.”
Here he comes. Weather or not.
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