LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It’s an 80-mile penance.
On the days he practices his craft, Bears kicker Cody Parkey drives from the team’s practice facility on the North Shore of Lake Michigan to Soldier Field, fighting traffic and bad memories. Parkey has missed seven of his 30 field-goal attempts this season, a 76.7 percent success rate, which is 28th among the 30 qualifying kickers. He has missed three of his 45 extra point tries, or 93.3 percent, 24th of 30 kickers.
In 2014, when Parkey made the Pro Bowl as an Eagles rookie, he nailed 32 of 36 field goals and all 54 PATs, though that kick is 13 yards longer now after a rule change in 2015. This kicker bears little resemblance to that kicker.
“Every year, there’s up and downs, unfortunately, at my position,” Parkey said as his Bears prepare for Sunday’s wild-card game against the Eagles. “You try to minimize them. Try to be the best you can be. And you put your best foot forward.”
Yes, he actually said, “You put your best foot forward”’
His best foot hasn’t been good enough, and it was impossibly horrific on Nov. 11 at home against the Lions. He missed field goals of 41 and 34 yards and two PATs -- all by hitting the uprights at Soldier Field. In the first three quarters.
Doink. Doink. Doink. Doink.
Bears coach Matt Nagy called a two-point conversion on the team’s final touchdown that day. It was the first of five two-point conversions Nagy called this season, all influenced, Nagy said, by Parkey’s struggles. Parkey also missed a PAT on Sunday at Minnesota, kicking in a dome.
Since the Lions game, Parkey and the field goal unit, along with special teams coach Chris Tabor, have driven to downtown Chicago on Wednesdays and Thursdays of home weeks -- 40 miles each way -- to better acclimate Parkey with the vagaries the stadium.
“It’s cold and windy,” Parkey said "That’s kind of a kicker’s worst nightmare."
Parkey has been something of a nightmare for the Bears, who believed he would return to his 2014 form. Parkey tore groin muscles three games into the 2015 Eagles and was cut out of training camp the following summer. The Browns picked him up for the rest of that season but waived him the following September. The Dolphins claimed him for 2017. He made 21 of 23 field goals and 26 of 29 PATs for Miami, which prompted the Bears to sign him to a four-year, $15 million contract with $9 million in guaranteed money, a contract with salary-cap ramifications that likely saved him from being released by the Bears.
For now, both sides can only grin and, um, bear it.
“He’s a mature individual,” Nagy said “He understands.”
“I’ve been kicking a ball since I was 12 years old, and I’ve never made every kick. It’s as simple as that. I’ve never gone a whole year without missing one kick,” Parkey said. “Literally, it doesn’t matter if you miss 30 kicks, or one kick. They all feel the same. Pretty bad.”
No. Missing 30 kicks would definitely feel worse.
Nagy’s ebullient postgame exclamation after the win over the Lions has become something of a trademark for the 40-year-old first-year head coach. Now, it’s a required proclamation during the Bears' “Club Dub” locker room celebrations.
Bears backup quarterback Chase Daniel wants to take the move to the people. He suggested on Twitter that the fans issue a collective Boom! at Soldier Field before the Bears host the Eagles in the wild-card playoff game.
“Is he going to lead it? I want to know who’s going to synchronize all those people,” Nagy said. “That might be pretty cool, I guess. I’m sure it can be done.”
Nagy was careful to note that his new calling card was not premeditated.