EDITOR’S NOTE: Chicago Bears Robbie Gould and John Gilmore will represent Penn State in this year's Super Bowl. Gould is a second-year kicker whose rapid rise from undrafted free agent to Pro Bowl selection has thrilled the Nittany Nation.
While the Bears' showdown with the Indianapolis Colts is the primary storyline of the Super Bowl, there are, as always, any number of interesting subplots. And one of them is Gould's relationship with Colts' kicker Adam Vinatieri, the longtime New England Patriots star who signed with the Colts last summer.
To provide background on the two, we are re-running a feature story on Gould that ran in Fight On State The Magazine during the 2005-06 NFL season. Again, note that this is not a recent story, and as such some of the facts within have changed.
But we felt it was worth running again so folks could get some insight into Gould's amazing NFL career to date and how Vinatieri helped him get where he is.
HEADLINE: Getting a Leg Up
SUBHEAD: Gould's gamble pays long-term dividends as he becomes the first Class of 2001 member to lock down an NFL roster spot
BYLINE: Mark Harrington
After the NFL draft last April, former Penn State kicker Robbie Gould knew he had a big career decision to make. Because he was not selected, he had to sort through his options as a free agent.
I knew I would have three choices: the Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, Gould explained.
The Patriots were a team he had little chance of making. After all, they were the defending Super Bowl champions and had arguably the league's best kicker in Adam Vinatieri. But New England still held a special appeal.
They were the best team in the league, had the best coaching staff and the league's best kicker, so it was the situation where I could learn the most, Gould said. I just wanted to learn how to excel at this level of play.
He took advantage of the situation, shadowing Vinatieri daily and learning everything he could about kicking with consistency in the NFL. Because Vinatieri was a proven commodity, he played little in preseason games, allowing Gould to show his stuff.
Gould with New England.
It came as little surprise — even to Gould — when he was cut near the end of camp. He was supposed to join the Patriots' practice squad. But when the Baltimore Ravens learned he was available, they invited him in for a tryout.
At Baltimore I beat out four other guys for the job, but then got cut again, Gould said. I went home for a bit and just waited for an opportunity to appear. Then I got called by the Bears because their kicker was injured.
Gould joined the Bears Oct. 8 of 2005 and quickly established himself after assuming the starter's role. In his first nine games, he made 75 percent of his field-goal attempts and was perfect on extra points. His first PAT miss came in a driving snowstorm at Pittsburgh Dec. 11, but he was 1 of 1 on field goals in that game. Chicago went 8-2 in his first 10 games there.
I didn't know if this was going to be a week-to-week job or something more permanent, Gould said. That is something you just don't experience at the collegiate level. My time at New England helped me to develop my skills and work on my consistency which has helped a lot in Chicago, especially with those pressure kicks.
Gould's performance under pressure earned him the NFL's Special Teams Player of the Week honor just one month into his tenure with the Bears. He kicked a last-second winning field goal against New Orleans Nov. 6.
That really meant a lot to me and, I feel, showed that I belong at this level of play, Gould said. I set a goal coming into the league that I would prove that I have the ability to play at this level. Now I want to show that I am a consistent player that my team can count on. I have been working hard to show that, and I think it is illustrated by my on-field performance.
Gould said his tenure with the Nittany Lions contributed to his early success.
Penn State helped me out a lot to get into the pros, he said. I had a great experience at PSU, and although I didn't enjoy the success there that I would have liked, the program and coaches showed me how to compete and prepare with determination. The discipline they teach goes a long way here.
He also said that playing with two other former Penn Staters — John Gilmore and Michael Haynes — has helped.
It is great playing with both of them, he said. Mike and I were close in college — we were neighbors. It has been special to play with a guy who is like my big brother. He's helped me a lot with my transition to the pros and Chicago. I don't know John quite as well, since we only played a year together, but he has been great, too. It always helps to have some familiar faces around.
Coming out of what was then known as Central Mountain High in Lock Haven, Pa., Gould did not receive scholarship offers from major-college programs. But he believed he could compete at the highest level, so he joined the Nittany Lions as an invited walk-on in 2001 and became a four-year starter.
When it came time to take his shot at the NFL, he set his standards high once again. And while the decision to head to New England was anything but a no-brainer, in the end it proved to be the perfect move.
In fact, he is the first player from his freshman class at Penn State to earn a roster spot in the NFL.
Honestly, I didn't necessarily expect the decision to pay off like it has, but I hoped it would, Gould said. I learned a ton from Adam [Vinatieri], and that gave me the confidence and understanding to compete at this level.
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