FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Kicker Robbie Gould was keeping a close eye on Tuesday's joint practice between his Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots when quarterback Tom Brady shouted out to him, "There's another New England guy!"
Gould was flattered, not to mention a little bit stunned. He’s actually from Pennsylvania, but he knew what Brady was referencing.
Gould's successful NFL career, now entering its 12th season, made its first stop with the Patriots. With a few options from which to choose, he decided to join New England as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2005, even though Adam Vinatieri was entrenched as the team's kicker.
Gould lasted only about four months, but he said the reception he has received from Brady, Bill Belichick, owner Robert Kraft and others the past two days has made it seem like four years, if not more.
"Every time we come to play the Patriots, whether it's home or away, Bill always goes out of his way to come say hello. That means a lot to me. Mr. Kraft, on the sideline, he grabbed me when I was watching practice to say 'We're really happy for you; it's awesome to see you doing so well.' Those are things that kind of give me chills just thinking about because here's this puny little rookie, sitting behind Adam Vinatieri just trying to learn and figure out where the next stop was going to be, and these guys are taking time out of their busy day to remember it and come up and say hello," Gould said.
"For me to reflect 12 years later, never would I have thought in a million years that I'd be playing for one organization for 12 years. At the same time, never would I have thought 12 years later I'd be on New England's practice field having the interactions with these guys that I've had."
Gould, who became the Bears' all-time leading scorer last October, credits his time in New England as the foundation for his pro career.
Then-special-teams coach Brad Seely changed his technique, transitioning him from taking three steps on field goal attempts in college to two in the NFL. Gould also used to look at the football as it went from the snapper to the holder at Penn State, but was he coached to stop doing that in the NFL.
"I just remember being young, trying to learn from those guys, and I thought, 'If I'm going to learn, I'm going to learn from the best.' Even if it never worked out, there are things they do as leaders that you're going to take on into the next job, whatever it is you're going to do," the 34-year-old Gould said.
"They really taught me how to kick in the NFL, taught me what it was like to do kickoffs, learn get-off times, watch film, learn schemes, and understand what you have to do to play long term. Even though it wouldn't be a situation where I'd always play here, they took a vested interest in me going somewhere else."
In retrospect, Belichick would later say that letting Gould go was something he wishes worked out differently.
At the time, Vinatieri was playing on the franchise tag and there was no guarantee they would hammer out of a long-term deal beyond 2005. When Vinatieri shocked many by signing with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent the next offseason, Gould could have been his successor.
Instead, the Patriots had waived Gould, who caught on with the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad for a few weeks to open the '05 season before being released. Gould was helping a family friend in his construction business when the Bears called in early October, as they were seeking a replacement for veteran Doug Brien.
Gould has been the Bears' kicker ever since, crediting veteran snapper Patrick Mannelly and punter/holder Brad Maynard for helping him in the early years. He's grown both on the job and off the field, as he met his wife Lauren. The couple now has two sons who are 3 and 1.
Meanwhile, things have worked out well for the Patriots; they drafted Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round in 2006, and he has emerged as arguably the NFL's best at the position.
While Gould's allegiances are naturally with the Bears, he said he's found himself cheering for the Patriots over the years. One exception came in last year's AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos because his brother, Chris, is an assistant coach on Denver's staff.
"You become a fan -- you get to know the players, you get to know the coaches, and you have a vested interest and want them to do well," he said, noting that he has faced the Patriots three times in his career (0-3). "One day, hopefully, we'll play in the Super Bowl against one another."
For now, Gould will take the next best thing -- reconnecting with old friends, saying thanks to them, and practicing where his NFL journey started.
"It's funny because we were kicking field goals in the same exact spot that we were kicking on when we were rookies," he said with a smile. "The only thing that changed was Coach Belichick wasn't yelling at me this time -- he was yelling at a different kicker -- and Doug Flutie wasn't holding for me.”