Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 2 Days with Cairo Santos

Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos
Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, the Detroit Lions beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the official return of NFL regular season play, but for many teams, we are still two days away from the start of a new year. To celebrate, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number two, kicker Cairo Santos.

Tulane Product Cairo Santos Shines with Chiefs before Chicago Bears Stint

Hailing originally from Limeira, São Paulo in Brazil, Cairo Santos grew up a fútbol fan, like many in his nation. The country won the World Cup when Santos was just three years old, helping fuel an entire generation of Brazilians who loved the sport. However, an opportunity to participate in a foreign exchange program would introduce him to a different type of football.

At 15 years old, Santos moved north and attended St. Joseph Academy in St. Augustine, Florida. There, he joined the school's soccer team, but his natural abilities with his leg provoked Santos to try out for the school's football team. It took a second for Santos that the aim was to kick above the crossbar and not below, but in his first practice with the team, he was hitting 50-yard field goals routinely.

Santos quickly earned the team's starting kicker spot and even served as a kickoff specialist, a punter, and a wide receiver. After his sophomore year, where he received letters from both the football and soccer teams, Santos saw a path to becoming a collegiate kicker and decided to remain in the state of Florida instead of returning to Brazil.

The gamble paid off, as Santos would go on to dominate as a high school kicker, setting a school record with a 55-yarder as a senior. He was named the All-District kicker as a sophomore and junior and finished his high school career with 162 points thanks in part to 99 made PATS in 100 attempts, and even a receiving touchdown, which he kicked the point after as well.

Despite his success, Santos was not regarded as a top 50 kicker prospect coming out of high school, but he still attracted attention from Division I programs and eventually accepted a scholarship offer from Tulane University.

Upon joining the collegiate ranks, Santos immediately became the Green Wave's starting kicker as a true freshman. Appearing in all 12 games, he led the team in points with 71 and missed just four kicks on the year en route to being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.

The next season, Santos was asked to take on punting responsibilities throughout the year. He missed just one PAT for the second straight campaign and averaged 41 yards per punt, but he struggled on field goals and finished the year with a 61% conversation rate after missing seven of his 18 attempts.

As a junior in 2012, Santos took a major step forward and proved himself to be one of the nation's premier kickers. Finishing the year with a team-leading 89 points, Santos made every field goal attempt with his sole miss of the year coming on a PAT. He set a school record for the longest field goal made with a 54-yard boot, which was surpassed by a 57-yarder a little over a month later. At the end of the season, he was named a First-Team All-American, won the Lou Groza award, and was selected as Tulane's Student-Athlete of the Year.

Respected as one of the nation's top specialists, Santos's senior season was not his best, but the team around him had improved significantly. Despite going 100% on 38 PATs, he missed seven field goals for the second time in his career and finished with just 16 makes. He was still able to lead his team in scoring with 86 points en route to helping his team clinch a New Orleans Bowl appearance following a 7-5 finish.

Tulane faced off against Louisiana-Lafayette in the postseason battle, and Santos was a perfect three-for-three on PATs to start the game. However, with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the kicker lined up for a potential game-tying 48-yard field goal, where the Ragin' Cajuns elected to spend a timeout to ice the St. Joseph product. Unfortunately, Santos would ultimately miss the kick, and Tulane would fall 24-21.

Throughout his college career, Santos had his fair share of ups and downs but was still considered an award-winning kicker. However, upon the end of his time at Tulane, the specialist was not selected during the 2014 NFL Draft but was able to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent, where he would compete against Ryan Succop for the team's kicker spot.

After a tight pre-season competition, Santos won the job ahead of the start of the regular season. In his first game, the kicker made history, becoming the first Brazilian-born player to play in the NFL. Throughout his rookie season, he proved why the team chose him over the veteran in Succop, and Santos finished the year with a 100% PAT conversion rate and missed just five of his 30 field goal attempts en route to finishing the year with 113 points.

Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos
Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Proven as a dependable kicker, the Chiefs kept Santos as their starting kicker for both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, where he scored 129 points each year. However, in 2017, his career was interrupted by a groin injury that he sustained during training camp. He was able to return to full health to start the season and had a 100% conversion rate on all kicks through the first three games, but a reaggravation of his injury forced the team to place him on injury reserve, where they eventually waived the kicker.

Chicago Bears Sign Cairo Santos and Journey Man Career Before Returning to Team

After recovering from the injury, Santos signed with the Chicago Bears, where he donned the number two. In his first game, a week 11 matchup versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Santos was one for two in field gaol attempts, but he did score the team's sole points in a 31-3 blowout loss. The following week, Santos was perfect, converting both of his PATs, but the team lost a close game. Before his third game with the Bears, Santos again reaggravated his persisting groin injury and did not play in the contest. The team released him following the game.

During the ensuing offseason, Santos signed on with the New York Jets but was released before the regular season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed the kicker midway through the season, where he played for seven games before being released despite going 100% on PATs and 9/12 on field goals. He ended the year with a two-game stint with the Los Angeles Rams, where he averaged 10 points per game. However, he was released when the team's regular kicker, Greg Zurlein, returned to full health.

The next year, Santos was not on a team during camp, but the Tennessee Titans signed Santos after their kicker Ryan Succop got injured. Replacing Succop for the second time in his career, Santos played well in Tennessee but was ultimately released after a disastrous day that included four missed field goals. Outside of those misses, Santos failed to connect on only one other attempt in his five games with the Titans.

Cairo Santos Becomes Full-Time Kicker for Chicago Bears in 2020

When it seemed like Santos's hopes of becoming a franchise's full-time kicker seemed slimmer than ever, the Chicago Bears brought the Tulane product in for the 2020 training camp, where he would compete against Eddy Piñeiro, the team's kicker from the previous season. Piñeiro won the job, but the team held onto Santos and signed him to their practice squad to start the year.

This move ended up being exactly what the team needed, as Piñeiro would get placed on season-ending injury reserve before the regular season started, and Santos was elevated to the active roster. Playing again for the team he suited up for briefly in 2017, the kicker enjoyed a career resurgence and made several big kicks throughout the season. Notably, Santos split the uprights for a game-winning field goal against Tampa Bay, the team that released him just two seasons prior. The following week, Santos set a career record with a 55-yard make against the Carolina Panthers, aiding in his recognition as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in December.

Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos
Chicago Bears, Cairo Santos / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

He finished the year with 126 points over a full 16-game season. Marking the first time he played in every game for a team since 2016, Santos missed just three of his 69 total attempts and re-established himself as an extremely accurate and dependable professional kicker.

Heading into the 2021 campaign, Santos was rewarded by the franchise with a three-year contract, tying him to the team through the current 2023 season. Santos turned in another efficient year, missing just five of his 58 attempts, two of which came beyond 50 yards. Notably, he scored 10 of the team's 16 points in their narrow win versus the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day and was perfect on the day in a week 15 battle against the Seattle Seahawks, where the team won 25-14.

Last season, Santos nearly had another completely healthy season but missed the team's week four battle against the New York Giants due to injury. He enjoyed his most efficient season as a field goal kicker, missing just two of his 23 attempts, but he missed a career-high five PATs, two of which came on a sludgy day versus the San Francisco 49ers during the team's season opener at Soldier Field. Still, the kicker had many highlights throughout the season, including a perfect outing on Monday Night Football against the New England Patriots. With three extra points and four field goals, Santos added 15 points in a statement 33-14 win.

Heading into his fourth season as the Chicago Bears full-time kicker, and his final under contract, Santos remains a reliable player for the team, and should hopefully have more opportunities to tack on points with an offense that may be able to move the ball more consistently than in previous years. In 51 total games with the Bears, Santos has never missed a field goal under 40 yards, speaking to his consistency in the close game.

Currently, Santos's 326 points with the team puts him as the franchise's 14th all-time leading scorer, where he sits just 10 points behind legendary running back Gale Sayers. With any luck, he should be able to move into the top ten by the end of the year.

It is important to note that while Santos is representing the number two on today's edition of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff, fans will find the kicker wearing the number eight this season, as he gave his jersey number to wide receiver D.J. Moore, who wore the number with the Carolina Panthers. Clearly, there may be some sort of hierarchy between the two players, and while Moore might be the better receiver, Santos scored a receiving touchdown in high school, but the star receiver did not even attempt a kick in high school, for what it's worth.