From knowing nothing about football to a 55-yard field goal, Santos 'in a zone'

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos (2) kicks a field goal against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020.

    Chicago Bears kicker Cairo Santos (2) kicks a field goal against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Associated Press

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 10/23/2020 6:24 PM

When Cairo Santos came to St. Augustine, Fla., as a foreign exchange student from Brazil, he didn't know anything about American football. He came here to play soccer and hopefully earn a soccer scholarship.

His host family encouraged him to try other sports, and one day he was messing around in the yard and kicked a football four houses down the block.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"They said it went 60 yards approximately," Santos said. "I was like, 'Was that good?'"

Soon after that, he walked into football practice at his high school, St. Joseph Academy, and nailed a 50-yard field goal his first day. He went out and bought Madden, the video game, so he could learn the sport because the football coach wanted him to kick that Friday.

"The light bulb just went off," Santos said. "I was trying to come here and play soccer and be an athlete on the collegiate level. Football was a path where the door just started to open."

Flash forward to Sunday, Santos nailed a career-high 55-yard field goal in the Bears' win over the Carolina Panthers. He made two more field goals (both 31 yards) and two extra points, and earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

"When I saw it was 55 (yards), I obviously knew it was going to be my career-long," Santos said. "I had a little more juice, but I had some wind helping at my back. So I was focused on just getting a smooth, solid ball, and let everything take care (of itself). It turned out to be exactly what we were able to do, ball down the middle."

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The kick will be in the Bears record books for a long time.

Only twice has a Bears kicker ever made a longer field goal. Longtime Bears kicker Robbie Gould made a 58-yard field goal in 2013 and a 57-yard field goal in 2011. Santos' career-long field goal is one of six 55-yard field goals in Bears history.

Santos said he can appreciate the weekly honors, especially after all he went through to return to an NFL field. Barely more than a year ago -- Oct. 6, 2019 -- Santos missed four field goal attempts as a member of the Tennessee Titans in a 14-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Titans released Santos the next day. 3

"It's been a hard road for me with the injuries, changes and teams," Santos said. "Changing technique to see what works better for my body. I've been dealing with recoveries, surgeries, all of that.

"This year, I really like the changes that I've made. It reminds me of my second and third years in Kansas City. I feel like everything looks exactly that way. My ball striking looks exactly that way, too. I'm in a zone right now."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Santos kicked in parts of four seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs before injuries derailed his career. He played for four more teams over the next two years, but never really found a home.

Now, he appears to have found a home in Chicago. The Bears brought in Santos midway through training camp only after kicker Eddy Pineiro went down with a groin injury. In the meantime, Santos has stolen the spotlight at the position.

Nagy loves Santos' attitude. The two were already familiar with each other from their time together in Kansas City.

"If he misses a kick, 'OK, I missed a kick. I'll get the next one,'" Nagy said. "And I appreciate that about him."

Pineiro is still on IR. According to the collective bargaining agreement for the 2020 season, once a player returns to practice from IR, the team has 21 days to place him on the active roster. So a decision looms if Pineiro ever does return to the field.

Santos isn't going anywhere, though. The challenge will be sticking around once the weather turns and Soldier Field becomes cold and breezy. If practice is any indication, the 28-year-old Brazilian might be OK.

Santos said there was one recent practice at Halas Hall where it was so windy the goal post tilted sideways. Bears staff members had to tie something to the crossbar and yank down one side to keep it straight during kicking drills.

"I actually went 8-for-8," Santos said. "They untied it and the goal post went back (sideways)."

Not bad for a soccer player.

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