CHICAGO — Zac Connelly watched in disbelief as Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the uprights and then the crossbar. He kept watching as Parkey put his helmet back on after praying with teammates and jogged off the field to deafening boos from Bears fans who packed Soldier Field for the 16–15 wild-card playoff loss against the Eagles. Connelly was heartbroken for his hometown team, and he knew Parkey was about to get destroyed by fans and media who would blame him for the Bears loss, even though he’d scored nine of Chicago’s 15 points.

Connelly, a senior experiential operations manager for the Chicago brewery Goose Island Beer Co., sat at home drinking the brewery’s Next Coast IPA. He looked at his beer, looked back at the TV, and had a wild idea. Wouldn’t it be funny if we put up field-goal posts outside of the brewery? he texted his boss. All you armchair kickers who think this is so easy to kick a 43-yard field goal, come give it a shot and win free beer if you can.

On Monday morning, Goose Island president Todd Ahsmann asked Connelly, ‘So, when are we building the field goal posts?’

Connelly immediately set the crazy plan in motion from there. Goose Island’s Twitter thread that announced the idea for the field goal contest went viral. Parkey’s missed field goal—now known as the double doink—was a heartbreaking Chicago sports gaffe, permanently etched in Bears’ lore with the same lasting shock as the Steve Bartman Incident. 

“A lot of armchair kickers on here are saying that they could hit that field goal, which we find DOUBTFUL,” the brewery tweeted. “You’re gonna sit there on your throne of potato chips and vape pens and criticize this dude’s athleticism? GET REAL.”

By Monday night, Goose Island’s event logistics team were busy constructing NFL regulation size field goal posts out of PVC pipe. Thank God for DIY Youtube videos, Connelly says.

Originally, the prize was free beer for a year, but the state of Illinois shut that one down and Goose Island had to change the prize to a free trip to any 2019 NFL regular season game. The contest gained so much interest that the brewery decided to limit the participants to 100, but put no limit on the number of prizes. Goose Island staff made bets on how many people would make the field goal, with guesses ranging from 0 to 15. Employees expected at least one amatuer kicker to hit the field goal and every amateur kicker expected to hit the field goal, but not one kick of the 100 attempts went in. Somewhere, Parkey smiled.

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Earlier in the week I decided I wanted to attempt the kick, but I didn’t want to show up and swing aimlessly at the football without any idea what I was doing. I emailed a local kicking expert with NFL experience—Filip Filipovic, the owner and head coach of The Kicking Coach, which is a business that runs kicking camps and clinics in the midwest, agreed to help me out for the field goal contest. I knew I could never hit a 43-yard field goal after one practice, but I just wanted to look like I knew what I was doing and learn the proper technique so I could better appreciate how difficult it is to place kick.

I met Filipovic at Wrightwood Park in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood on the day before the contest. The park was totally dead in the early afternoon, and we took over a field. There wasn’t any snow on the ground, but the field was rough and uneven, with rocks scattered around. Filipovic set up the tee and arm to hold the ball in place, and then he walked me through the basics, first demonstrating how to mark off the approach. Start by standing behind the ball and take three steps backwards, then two steps to the left (for a righty). Take a quick small step with the left, then two larger steps with the right and left foot, then swing the right leg back and hit the bottom of the ball with the top middle part of your foot.

My first few kicks were pathetic, low to the ground and careening to the left. But Filipovic is a patient teacher, and he pointed out I was making contact with the ball too high up on the ball. He told me I needed to kick the bottom third of the ball to get underneath it and he showed me the proper stance before the movement, leaned forward slightly, upper body tall, arms dangling in front. Once I got the stance down, I really felt like a kicker.

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After 15 or so kicks, Filipovic had me try kicking with my toe pointed downward, and I had a total breakthrough. Well, a relative breakthrough, considering I was still nowhere near 43 yards, but now I was getting underneath the ball and actually kicking it up into the air, theoretically clearing the defensive line.

At the end of our session, a class of middle school kids ran across the street and into the park for recess. A group of kids lingered on our field near us, clearly waiting for me to kick. The pressure was on. I can’t do it with these kids watching! I said. “It’ll be a good distraction for you,” Filipovic said. “Imagine thousands of fans in a stadium.”

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and began my approach. Left, right, left, SWING! The ball felt great coming off my foot. Solid. It sailed up into the air and 24 yards down the field. My new personal record. “That was your best yet! You get knucks for that!” Filipovic said, extending his fist towards mine.

The kids clapped. After a few more, we called it a day. As I took off my cleats, one of recess kids yelled at me, “Hey! You’re really good at kicking! The Bears should sign you!”

“Yeah, you’re better than Cody Parkey!” another kid shouted. And then they all began arguing amongst themselves about Parkey and whether he should have made the field goal and who deserved the blame.

I laughed. Even these 11-year-old kids are still mad about Parkey, almost a week after the game. My recess fan club’s reaction to my kicks proved I had accomplished my goal for this story. I might not kick the ball 43 yards, but I’ll damn sure look like I could.

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On Saturday, the day of the Goose Island Field Goal Challenge, the cold weather, snow, strong wind blowing towards the kickers and slushy wet turf made for difficult kicking conditions. The first kicker lined up at 6 a.m. outside the taproom in Chicago’s Fulton Market district, and by 10 a.m., the 100 spots to kick were filled. It was a sports moment that was quintessentially Chicago: Snow, wind, cold weather, beer, die-hard Bears fans and a lot of blind confidence.

The first kicker in line milked the crowd of several hundred onlookers as the snow fell steadily on the blocked-off street. He took an aggressive approach to the ball, but both his legs slid out from under him and he wound up flat on his back on the turf. A guy wearing an Eagles sweatshirt and another in a Rodgers jersey also slipped and whiffed their kicks, much to the crowd’s delight. They were both loudly booed. Filipovic, who came to watch the event, said the weather was about as bad as it could get for kicking, and the cold temperature made the football hard and more difficult to kick the distance.

For every kick that cleared the ten-foot high fence acting as the defensive line, there were two that never left the turf, with the kickers winding up on feet in the air Charlie Brown-style. One rogue football even hit an unlucky Goose Island employee right where it hurts. There were a few of your typical Shirtless Guys, and several sporting shorts and bro tanks in the 20-degree weather. The closest attempt of the day fell several yards short of the goalposts.

Many of the participants were former high school kickers trying to get the last word after years of being the butt of jokes. Marco Antonio Reynoso, 33, was one of those former high school kickers seeking revenge on years of underappreciation. “All my cousins were all heckling me to come out and try it,” he said, after his straight-on kick fell short of the goalposts. “I haven’t kicked in 15 years but I wanted to give it a shot. I had three beers before my kick, so I felt like I had enough courage to go after it.”

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Another high school kicker, Clayton Seymour, 29, flew in from Biloxi, Miss. after high school friends in Chicago egged him on to prove he could do it. “All my friends don’t realize how long 43 yards really is,” he says. “You notice because when Parkey kicked it, you thought it was going in, but slowly you’re like whoa, it’s not even at the post yet. The television camera makes you think that. Kicking is way harder than what people think, so I love this event.”

Seymour was sure he’d make his kick, but says the elements prevented him from getting proper power behind the ball. “It is god-awful slippery,” he says. “When you go to take your first step, not only was your plant foot slipping, every foot was slipping, so you’re like walking up there cautiously. It was awkward.”

I expected to hear some ignorant cursing about at the Bears kicker, but the crowd was surprisingly pro-Parkey. 

Jason Owens, 29, came out to kick as a show of solidarity with Parkey, who he thinks Chicago should keep on the roster next season. “For Goose Island to back Parkey, that was great,” he says. “it was not his fault, definitely can’t blame him.”

Owens is something of a kicker super fan, and he wore a white No. 9 Robbie Gould jersey to bring him good luck. It did not, and Owens missed his shot. “Kickers are very underrated, they are very underappreciated.” he says.

“People might make excuses and say it is snowing and the elements, but we also aren’t kicking for a win in the wild-card to make it farther in the playoffs, so I definitely feel for Parkey,” Reynosa says.

Just one kicker I talked to refused to acknowledge that Parkey’s job is harder than originally thought. He kept repeating the tired argument that Parkey is paid millions of dollars to accomplish this one task.

I joined the line somewhere around Kicker No. 35, and when I walked from the field goal posts to the turf where I would kick from, I finally understood just how far 43 yards is. I walked up to the tee and the supportive crowd cheered. I just wanted to clear the 10-foot fence and avoid a wipeout. Many of the kickers failed to clear the fence and stay on their feet, and I did not want to make the blooper reel. I wiped off my cleats and lined up my approach.

I don’t remember thinking anything during my kick, because I was too excited and overwhelmed by the pressure of the moment. This was my one shot. Goose Island did not have kicking net, so I couldn’t warm up a practice swing. I somehow stayed on my feet and my kick cleared the “defensive line.” I pulled the ball way too far to the left, and was at least 20-25 yards short on this attempt. My practice PR was better, but I survived humiliation and looked like I knew what I was doing. Relative success.

Filipovic watched from near the defensive line fence, and texted me analysis of my kick: Contacted the football to the right and above the sweet spot. Kicking foot needs to be more open with toe pointed down at contact. Swing needs to be more down the field toward the target. Steps and posture look good. Better contact is the key. And training wise, start training more than 24 hours prior to the event.

It was a perfect outcome that no one hit the field goal, because Goose Island achieved their goal of proving how difficult the feat is. Though I never thought I would make it, many of the contestants seriously believed they could hit it. Many wore cleats, and went through a series of warm up stretches to be best prepared for their turn, only to bang it straight into the fence or send the ball sailing wide left into a tree. None of the footballs hit the uprights, but one ball doinked off the side of the brewery’s distribution building far right of the posts. After my kicking lesson and attempt in terrible weather conditions, I certainly have a newfound appreciation for the stressful role. 

Because no one hit the field goal to collect on the prize, Goose Island announced it would donate $20,000 to the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, a charity chosen by Parkey himself.

“I hope people can empathize with kickers, and also professional athletes,” Connelly says. “Everyone says they make so much money, but people don’t realize it’s not that easy. Hopefully we’ve managed to take a situation that was a negative and turn it into a positive. There are a lot of people smiling and having fun out here.”

Attempting Parkey’s field goal was a cathartic experience and provided a much-needed closure for fans still processing the loss. Each kicker’s post-kick shout or arm-raise was a release of the Bears demons, an exorcism of sorts. After the last kicker’s shot fell short, Goose Island staffers tied a rope around the homemade field goal posts and pulled the structure down.

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