CHICAGO — The first of many arrived before the sun did. Around 6:30 a.m. A kicker in high school, he was confident – just like the other 100-plus Chicagoans who flocked to the west side of a city still recovering from the most agonizing of NFL playoff losses.
By around 9:30, with snow flurries beginning to sheathe the ground, the last of 100 spots in Goose Island Beer Company’s field goal challenge had been claimed. For hours thereafter, at least 100 more fans were turned away. All had come with the idea that they – former soccer players, out-of-shape middle-aged men, and everyone in between – could do what Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey couldn’t: Make a 43-yard field goal rather than double-doink it.
And they were wrong. Very wrong.
“A 43-yard field goal, we really do believe, is much more difficult than the armchair kickers think it is,” Goose Island president Todd Ahsmann told Yahoo Sports on Friday.
He, on the other hand, was very right.
At least 100 tried. Fighting snow and a headwind, every single one failed. And many did so in hilarious fashion.
Media members – including this one – stepped up as well, and suffered a similar fate:
Some had the accuracy, but nowhere near the distance. Many more failed to clear a fence designed to simulate an NFL defensive line. At least a dozen barely got the ball off the ground.
Several met the ground themselves, having slipped on the slick turf mat, a lesson learned via embarrassment: A field goal is much harder than it looks from a couch.
The Parkey-inspired field goal challenge
When Parkey smacked the left upright, then the crossbar, last Sunday, Goose Island employee Zac Connelly was a few beers in. “Just the perfect amount,” he told Yahoo Sports Saturday as the Goose Island taproom filled with wannabe kickers.
And while sipping the company’s Next Coast IPA, he began to see Chicago’s rage; the threats toward Parkey; the online bullying. He and his colleagues, as Ahsmann said, wanted to “stick up for our fellow Chicagoan” – and prove how difficult Parkey’s job really is.
So on Monday morning, the team got to work. That afternoon, they looked into renting goalposts, or rolling in mobile ones. Instead, they fired up YouTube and taught themselves how to build a set. They bought necessary materials, and relied on a marketing employee with a carpentry background.
Oh, and they themselves started practicing. In part, as Ahsmann said, because “we really thought 20 people would show up.”
But then they teased free beer as a reward, and the story blew up. Thousands RSVP’d. Media outlets small and large covered it. Goose Island even reached out to Parkey’s representative to see if he’d be interesting in attending. The request went unanswered, but free beer was attractive enough to the masses.
Unfortunately, Illinois lawmakers tried to ruin the fun.
Free beer was against the law
Per state law, associating free alcoholic drinks with a competition is prohibited. So a few days after Goose Island began promoting the field goal challenge, it received a call from “the powers that be,” who presumably referenced the following section of a Prohibition-era liquor control act:
No retail licensee or employee or agent of such licensee shall:
5. encourage or permit, on the licensed premises, any game or contest which involves drinking alcoholic liquor or the awarding of drinks of alcoholic liquor as prizes for such game or contest on the licensed premises.
So the brewery had to adjust on the fly. They replaced free beer with an all-expenses-paid trip to an NFL game of a winner’s choice – no matter how many winners there were. They capped entry at 100. On Saturday morning, Ahsmann predicted 10 makes. He was waaaaay too optimistic.
About three-and-a-half hours before kickoff, there was a mad dash for the 100th spot.
By 12:30, the lucky 100 had been ushered into the brewery’s garage. Meanwhile, a sizable crowd surrounded the kickers’ pen outside, even in intensifying snow and wind. They were given noisemakers. They were encouraged to heckle. They didn’t disappoint.
There were even some rooftop viewers:
Inside the garage, there was legitimate tension. Some hopefuls tossed a football around. Others kicked a soccer ball. A frightening amount changed into cleats. Others stripped off pants to reveal shorts and tights. One man attached a faux-facemask to his winter hat. Most stretched. Some practiced their form.
When the first dozen or two were led outside, the entire crowd paused and belted out the national anthem:
And then the schadenfreude began:
The hilarious misses
The first kicker, outfitted in a Fenwick High School practice jersey, had been practicing with a buddy in the suburbs during the week. But before he could hit the kick of his life, his plant foot gave way, and and he got the afternoon off to an inauspicious start:
Oh, but it would get worse …
Even athletic-looking 20-somethings decked out in athletic-looking gear failed miserably:
Nobody reached the uprights. But we did have a doink of a different kind …
There were heels who ripped off jackets to reveal Vikings or Packers apparel. But the crowd favorite was this Eagles fan:
There was on-the-fly cleat swapping for traction, but to no avail:
Going shirtless didn’t work either:
Neither did warmup routines:
The closest of the 100-plus came up several yards short:
No kickers were successful. But it was a wildly successful afternoon for the brewery and all who came out, even as they trudged off into the afternoon with snow clinging to their hats, jackets and beards.
And in lieu of a winner, Goose Island offered to donate $20,000 to the charity of Cody Parkey’s choosing. Per a spokesperson, that charity will be Lurie Children’s Hospital.
As the event wound down, and as Connelly surveyed the scene, reflecting on a whirlwind week, there was only one questioned left unanswered: When will Goose Island run it back?
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