How Eddy Piñeiro became a Bears legend

How Eddy Piñeiro became a Bears legend

CHICAGO — They rose before the scorching South Florida sun, toting cleats and hope for the fateful voyage. On an early June morning in 2015, some 51 months before you learned his name, Eddy Piñeiro ducked into the passenger seat of a rented Chevy Impala and buckled up. His father slid in behind the wheel. A friend accompanied them. And for 12-plus hours, they cruised, first up the Atlantic coast. They swung inland, on highways lined with greenery, weaving between lakes. They passed Orlando, and Gainesville, and Tallahassee, cutting across the panhandle and into a different world. Their destination was Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and in the morning a camp. But for now, there was no dorm or hotel address to punch into smartphones.

pummeled a football 60-plus yards through Mile High air. Sometime after his Bears teammates pranced onto the field and mobbed him. Sometime after Chicagoans toasted him, recollections of that 2015 evening brought tears to his eyes.’ data-reactid=”18″>The memory, still vivid, overwhelmed Piñeiro on Sunday night, sometime after he swung his rocket launcher of a right leg and pummeled a football 60-plus yards through Mile High air. Sometime after his Bears teammates pranced onto the field and mobbed him. Sometime after Chicagoans toasted him, recollections of that 2015 evening brought tears to his eyes.

Because a week before it, before he wowed Nick Saban, before SEC bluebloods offered him a future, Piñeiro didn’t know what his future held. He sat in a high school classroom in Coral Springs, Florida, about an hour north of home. He was a 19-year-old JUCO soccer player, the Miami-born son of Cuban and Nicaraguan immigrants, who’d never kicked a field goal in a game. And he was tempted to shun football before it ever really gave him a shot.

Eddy Pineiro kicks the game winning field goal with one second left during the fourth quarter of the game on on Sunday. The Bears won the game 16 to 14. (Getty Images)

Fútbol or football?

Piñeiro’s 53-yard game-winner in Denver vanquished double-doink demons, and the “cult hero” tag shed its modifier.’ data-reactid=”42″>Then, on Sunday, Piñeiro’s 53-yard game-winner in Denver vanquished double-doink demons, and the “cult hero” tag shed its modifier.

[Watch live NFL games all season long for free on the Yahoo Sports app]‘ data-reactid=”49″>[Watch live NFL games all season long for free on the Yahoo Sports app]

More than a decade later, he married and had Eddy Jr. The family eventually swelled to five. He had a short stint as a professional soccer player. Then, to support his wife and three kids, he turned to blue-collar labor. He now toils as a construction worker, installing kitchens. He made enough to keep the family afloat. But “financially,” Eddy Jr. says, “they’ve never been stable in their life.”

For a while, that seemed realistic. He was a multi-time All-Dade County selection in high school, and the Miami Herald’s 2014 player of the year. There are stories, passed down in writing and by word of mouth, of goals from midfield; of late winners; of shirtless celebrations. Piñeiro was a forward with flair, and with enough ability to earn a full ride to Florida Atlantic. Only then did fate intervene.

The NCAA ruled him academically ineligible. Piñeiro scrambled for a Plan B. He chose ASA, a local junior college. Before long, he was wearing No. 10 and banging in goals. His education depended on it.

Chris Sailer, one of the nation’s elite kicking coaches, trekked to South Florida. Piñeiro secured a camp invite. Two days of moonshots later, the curriculum brought guru and raw talent to that Coral Springs classroom for an evaluation. Sailer sat behind an old-school teacher’s desk. Piñeiro sat across from him.’ data-reactid=”63″>Finally, in late May, Chris Sailer, one of the nation’s elite kicking coaches, trekked to South Florida. Piñeiro secured a camp invite. Two days of moonshots later, the curriculum brought guru and raw talent to that Coral Springs classroom for an evaluation. Sailer sat behind an old-school teacher’s desk. Piñeiro sat across from him.

“I call his dad in,” Sailer says, picking up the story. “And he said, ‘Chris, I need to know the honest truth. … We’re at a crossroads here. What do you think? Should my son kick? Because after this camp, we’re making a decision. You either quit football completely and focus on soccer, or’ —

“And I go, ‘Listen, Mr. Piñeiro, trust me.’”

The following weekend, there was a high-profile camp in Tuscaloosa. Two-dozen Division I prospects. Saban. Opportunity.

“Get him down to Alabama,” Sailer concluded.

“You have an NFL leg right now,” Arango remembers Sailer saying.

Eddy Pineiro (15) sits on the shoulders of his Florida teammates as they celebrate after defeating South Carolina in 2016. (AP)

The trip that changed everything

So, with borrowed money, they rented a car that would double as lodging. Father made the stakes very clear. Son concurred. “If I don’t get a scholarship here, I told him I was done,” Piñeiro Jr. remembers. He still loved soccer. Saturday morning, after a night in the Impala, stiff neck and all, would be his “one shot.”

soaked up. Then a sophomore soccer season, and an Alabama decommitment, and a Florida pledge.’ data-reactid=”95″>‘Bama, Miami and Georgia soon followed. Piñeiro chose the Crimson Tide. Then came more viral videos, and more attention, which he soaked up. Then a sophomore soccer season, and an Alabama decommitment, and a Florida pledge.

most scrutinized kicking competition in the league.’ data-reactid=”98″>He latched on in Oakland. After appearing to have the Raiders job won as a rookie, a minor injury led to a “redshirt year” and a dream put on hold. This past spring, he was dealt to Chicago, and thrust into the most scrutinized kicking competition in the league.

But the manufactured pressure? The “Augusta silence”? The inescapable cloud of Cody Parkey’s miss that loomed over his and his challengers’ every move?

Arango used to tell him: “Bro, you’re the perfect kicker. Like, you don’t think of the pressure at all.”

free Snickers. He became the main attraction at Halas, the Bears PR staff struggling to pick up the blitz of requests that filled their inboxes. After 15 nonstop minutes with reporters, Piñeiro let out a sharp, stress-breaking “Whoo!”‘ data-reactid=”124″>Whether he’s changed or not, his life has. He’s met the mayor. He’s stocked up on free Snickers. He became the main attraction at Halas, the Bears PR staff struggling to pick up the blitz of requests that filled their inboxes. After 15 nonstop minutes with reporters, Piñeiro let out a sharp, stress-breaking “Whoo!”

“This is so many questions,” he said laughing. “How much time we got here?”

installing kitchen cabinets with dad can now use game checks.’ data-reactid=”129″>Most of all, though, there is also a deep familial love, bred and still based in South Florida, unaltered by the shallower love now flooding in from elsewhere. There’s a desire to help those who’ve helped him. And the kid who used to do so by installing kitchen cabinets with dad can now use game checks.

“I want to be a great kicker so I can support my family for the rest of my life,” Piñeiro says. “So they never have to work a day in their life. That’s been my goal since Day 1.

“They’ve struggled so much, and they’ve given me everything. And now it’s time that I give them everything.”

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