“Double doink.” It’s a phrase that will be imprinted on the minds of Chicago Bears fans in the same way that “tuck rule” still tears at the hearts of Raider Nation. During Wild Card Weekend, Chicago Bears placekicker Cody Parkey booted a potential game-winning, 43-yard field goal. Parkey’s kick initially looked like it had a chance, as it sailed through the clear Chicago night, but then it started hooking left. Then: doink. Parkey’s kick drilled the left upright before bouncing off the crossbar—doink—and returning to Earth.
Rage swept over Chicago. A fan base, miffed by a 33-year Super Bowl drought, set their sights on the $15-million kicker. Death threats poured in on Twitter. Overnight, the city was full of armchair kicker elites, each certain that they could successfully drill a 43-yard field goal with a season on the line.
The next morning, on Jan. 7, video evidence proved that Eagles defensive lineman Treyvon Hester had tipped Parkey’s kick. However, the official news of a blocked kick didn’t temper the Bears fans’ misdirected rage. Chicagoans continued to voice their frustrations to anyone who’d listen.
That inspired one Chicago institution to come to Parkey’s defense—and to issue a challenge to the entire city.
Goose Island Beer Co. posted the following missive on Twitter:
“A lot of armchair kickers on here are saying that they could hit that field goal, which we find DOUBTFUL. You’re gonna sit there on your throne of potato chips and vape pens and criticize this dude’s athleticism? GET REAL. So you know what we’re going to do? Build a dang field goal post in the middle of the street outside of our brewery, and all you pro athletes can come out and prove us wrong.”
[Disclosure: GBH’s studio side has worked with Goose Island on various projects over the years, including, most recently, the brewery’s Grit & Grain book.]
Zac Connelly, Goose Island’s senior experiential operations manager, came up with the challenge following the Bears’ loss. “I was sitting on my couch, drinking Next Coast, devastated like the rest of Chicago. But when I watched Parkey walk off the field—getting booed mercilessly—I thought it’d be great if we challenged all these armchair kickers to make an ‘oh-so-easy’ 43-yarder.”
Immediately following the loss, Connelly texted his thoughts to his boss. By Monday morning, he was on YouTube learning how to build a field goal post.
Flurries fluttered across my windshield as I drove down Fulton Street toward Goose Island. As I got closer, I noticed a large “Road Closed” sign, plus multiple groups of men dressed in sweatpants and carrying cleats. I had been doubtful that more than 25 participants would be waiting in line, but I quickly realized my prediction was way off. Then I saw it: two yellow posts rising above the warehouses that lined the street. As I stared at the field goal post, I felt a little bit like Sam Neill’s character in Jurassic Park when he first lays eyes on the dinosaurs:
“This is happening.”
I wove my way past barriers and fences to the front of the line, which, by then, was 200-something people long. It looked like Chicago’s amateur kickers—here to prove their jockstrap boastings weren’t delusions of grandeur—were ready to accept Goose’s challenge.
When I pushed my way into the taproom, it was already full of Bears fans. In addition to orders of IPAs and Stouts, waves of anticipation, astonishment, and frustration swept through the crowd. I sipped on a Next Coast IPA and took in the spectacle.
The Goose Island staff all sported Coach Ditka sweaters with stitching reading “Old Man Grumpy.” Grumblings about Parkey’s villainy grew louder as word of his controversial appearance on the TODAY Show filtered through the bar. The Chicago faithful were having none of it.
Back outside, the line continued to grow, but Goose Island’s official rules stipulated that only the first 100 registered kickers would be eligible to attempt a field goal.
Coffee cups began to pile up as the hopeful carried their confidence and cleats towards the registration desk. Snow was falling heavily by this point, and, looking outside, I thought the chances of anyone making the kick were approaching zero. In fairness, the contestants standing behind the metal guardrails weren’t your pot-bellied uncles from a Saturday Night Live skit. The average age of participants looked to be around 30, and it seemed like most would recognize the inside of a gym.
Danny Andino, a seven-year recovering alcoholic, was so sure he’d make the kick that he’d traveled all the way from Dallas, TX to participate. “When I heard they were offering free beer for a year, I thought, ‘What better way to come and promote the platform of recovery than [...] drilling a 43-yard field goal and then turning down the year’s worth of free beer?’” Andino told me.
Though Goose Island had initially promised the free beer to any successful kickers, the brewery later rescinded the promotion due to legal issues. Andino laughed off the change. He had already booked his trip, and still wanted to prove that he was capable of hitting the kick and, in so doing, help promote sobriety.
“My furthest [field goal] in high school was 52 [yards],” he told me.
Andino and his hundred-odd Chicago peers were confident, but also just happy to potentially live out every sports fan’s dream. The crowd, I quickly realized, wasn’t an angry Twitter mob. Beer and football, rather than spite, seemed to be the main reason that people had flocked to Goose Island in such large numbers.
“I love Goose Island beer, man, and this was a cool promo. I love the Bears, so why not?” Ryan Ento of Chicago told me. He was joined by his buddy Eoin Reid from New York.
I returned to the taproom to survey the scene. Phil Cozzi and Zach Laszkiewicz had both arrived at 7am to lock in their spots. I found them munching on snacks and sipping on pints. The wind picked up as we started to chat, and began to blow the snow west down Fulton—an unfavorable direction for the kickers. But Cozzi and Laszkiewicz shrugged at the typically-Chicago weather and drank their beers.
Laszkiewicz was a kicker in high school, and he claimed to have had a range of 55 yards back in the day. He and Cozzi both practiced earlier in the week, and felt capable of winning the challenge.
A final meeting for all kickers was set to begin at 12:15pm across the street at Goose’s warehouse. As I crossed Fulton, grown men were playing catch in the street like children in neighborhood cul-de-sacs. Thirty-somethings tossed balls through the snow and celebrated each catch as if it were a touchdown.
Inside the warehouse, however, a gang of Uncle Ricos—minus the creepy orange van—were running 15-yard sprints and using whiskey barrels to steady their legs as they stretched. Soccer players juggled a ball in one corner. A few other participants had somehow gotten their hands on a football and had taken practice kicks off the brick wall. The 100 were about to relive their glory days and show Chicago that they could accomplish what a professional athlete couldn’t. Maybe.
All 100 participants gathered at the garage door of the warehouse. The snow was still falling steadily. The temperature held right around freezing. It was picturesque weather, but better for spectators than players.
Fans and members of the media numbering in the hundreds gathered at the sides of the barriers like a golf tournament’s gallery. The particularly feisty propped themselves behind the chainlink defensive line, directly in front of the kickers.
In true Chicago fashion, spectators and Goose Island employees joined together to belt out an acapella version of the national anthem. The crowd roared in anticipation. The kickers filed in one by one. A strip of slick field turf, a placeholder, and one kick awaited them.
Laszkiewicz entered first, wearing a white Fenwick High practice jersey and black Nike cleats. He lined up his kick and stepped to the back edge of the green turf. After a breath, he assertively approached the ball and...splat. In what came to be a portentous moment for the event, the ball went flying into the makeshift Eagles defensive line, and the first kicker was sitting on his keister, head held low. A collective laugh bellowed through the crowd. One down, 99 to go. After just one kicker, Goose Island surely must’ve been confident about their stakes.
The brewery’s ad hoc setup looked straight out of NFL Street, and the kicks matched the video game-like arena. Errant balls continually ricocheted off the makeshift defensive line and guardrails. Although the kickers hadn’t seemed worried about the weather prior to the competition, the two-odd inches of snow were proving challenging. Bang, boom—the ball continually rattled the fences and the crowd watched, their heads on a swivel. Then: smack. A direct hit. A football veered left and hit the official placeholder right below the belt. At this point, the competition was still just 10 or so contestants deep.
By now, placekickers the likes of Gary Anderson, Blair Walsh, and Ray Finkle had all been redeemed. Me, I was 99% sure that no one was going to connect on the straight path and clear the uprights.
Nonetheless, kickers continued lacing up their cleats and heading out in their tight athletic pants. Many landed on their backsides, but eventually kicks started clearing the fence and the surrounding crowd seemed out of harm's way. (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the trees on the north side of Fulton.) The handful of kicks that did look on the line were halted by the snow and ended up a few yards short of victory.
The excitement of the afternoon peaked when several Chicago villains arrived on the scene. No, Parkey didn’t show and redeem himself by connecting a 43-yarder in the middle of a snowstorm. Instead, a few brave fans arrived in divisional rivals’ colors: one sported an Aaron Rodgers jersey, and another donned a purple Vikings hoodie. The third was more foolish than brave, as the gentleman in question had the audacity to wear a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie. All three were welcomed with boos as loud—if not louder—as the ones that Parkey faced during his ignominious exit from Soldier Field.
Call it fate, or poetic justice, but when it came time to kick, the rivals displayed pathetic attempts at athleticism. Two out of the three landed right where they belonged: butt-down on the frozen concrete.
The interlopers did have one positive effect: they brought the crowd together after a long, frustrating week. The armchair kickers may have gone 0/100, and Parkey may have remained the best kicker in Chicago, but the challenge helped remind everyone in attendance that sports should be unifying at their core. (And since there was no winner, Goose Island donated $20,000 to the charity of Cody Parker’s choosing—Lurie Children’s Hospital.)
Even the villains ended the event high-fiving Bears fans, smiles on their faces. It might be a while before it happens again, but for a couple of hours that Saturday afternoon, warring NFL factions and disgruntled Chicagoans came together to laugh, slip around in the snow, and share some beers.