Eddy Pineiro’s 53-yard buzzer beater Sunday in Denver was as cathartic as it was clutch.
It bailed the Bears out on Sept. 15 of a likely insurmountable 0-2 start to a season that was always going to be considered a disappointment if it finished any earlier than at least mid-January. And Chicago clearly doesn’t win without the heroics of Pineiro, the NFC Special Teams Player of Week 2, who drilled 50- and 40-yard field goals, plus his first-ever extra point, in addition to the magical game-winner.
But that one kick, if not Pineiro’s perfect 4-of-4 start this season, symbolizes even more. It’s an early sign that the Bears’ exhaustive and hyper-scrutinized search — one that began not in January to replace Cody Parkey but three years ago after their unceremonious ouster of franchise scoring leader Robbie Gould — appears like it might just end with quite a discovery.
Bears fans already know about Gould’s forced exit and spectacular second career act, and are as painfully aware of everything that unfolded between Parkey’s infamous playoff double-doink up until now.
But they’re still getting to know Pineiro’s football backstory, beginning at Nick Saban’s football camp in Tuscaloosa in June 2015. That’s what immediately entered the head of Sunday’s biggest hero just as his booming kick split the uprights.
“That's what brought tears to my eyes after that kick — just remembering that moment, like, 'Damn I was literally sleeping in a car with my dad trying to get some good sleep and go to the camp and win a scholarship. That's what came to my mind,” Pineiro recalled Wednesday.
Prior to that moment, Pineiro’s ultimate career goal was following in the footsteps of his father, a professional soccer player, as a way to support his migrant parents who’ve always struggled to make ends meet. They slept in the car on the eve of what was the biggest job interview of Pineiro’s life because they couldn’t afford a hotel.
But with the prodding of his dad and one of his close friends from his hometown of Miami, Pineiro, who had never kicked a football before, took a chance by roughing it during that trip to Alabama. Within two years, he was the University of Florida’s all-time accuracy leader. Twelve months later he was signed as a college free agent by the Oakland Raiders, placed on IR with a groin injury after winning the job in the preseason, and dealt to Chicago in May for a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft choice.
He was taken aback by the Raiders’ decision, but the Bears took the chance, like Pineiro in attending that football camp, and it’s now paying dividends.
“Coming from Oakland, their expectations for me were [through] the roof. They told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to be our guy for the next 10 years. This and that. … And then out of nowhere they trade you. It’s like, ‘Oh, wow they used the redshirt year on me, but then they traded me. It didn’t make any sense.”
For Pineiro, though, his motivation remains making plenty of dollars and cents for his family. Make no mistake, he appreciates the chocolates that came Wednesday with being named Snickers Hungriest Player of the Week. And he’s enjoyed the notoriety in the aftermath of his clutch kick, such as being recognized for one of the first times by fans on a boat tour in the city Monday.
Still, paying back his family for their unconditional support is what truly fuels Pineiro.
“The thing I always go back to is just taking care of my family,” he said. “They’ve done everything for me. Financially, they’ve never been stable in their life and they’ve always given me the shirt off their back. So now it’s time for me to support them. That’s what always kept me motivated.”
Ironically, Pineiro’s work Sunday coupled as taking care of his other family.
“Our team is bonded together. We’re growing. That definitely made us closer,” LB Danny Trevathan said. “… [Pineiro] takes it on his shoulders. We raise men over here. Can’t say we raise men, but we got grown men over here. It’s your job. It’s your responsibility. Take pride in that. So when I see somebody like that, it makes me feel good about the situation and team I’m on.”
Pineiro obviously wasn’t around last season, when Matt Nagy, in his maiden head coaching voyage, guided the Bears to 12 wins in part because of the tight-knit culture he and Ryan Pace carefully cultivated. Still, it was interesting to hear the new kicker echo Trevathan’s sentiments on the unifying effect Sunday’s game seemingly had.
“I feel like after this kick, we've all gotten closer as a family,” he said. “It's pretty crazy how our team is so united now, like, I have their back, they have my back. There's going to be days when I miss a kick and they're going to have to get my back. And there's going to be days when the offense or defense doesn't perform and I have to get their back. So it's a family thing.”
Pineiro joked Wednesday that perhaps that imminent miss never arrives — “Everybody loves you now, but let’s see where you’re at when you miss. We’ll determine that hopefully never.” — but he’s obviously afforded himself more patience with his hot start for when the likely growing pains begin.
“The whole NFL is just crazy. The career for kickers is just crazy. It’s always a journey, and as a kicker you just pray that you can land in one spot and stay there for the next 20 years.”