After enduring two weeks of offseason practice, Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos needed a break from the football field. So he spent his day off Saturday returning to his first, true passion — soccer.
Santos, who grew up playing soccer like most Brazilians, attended Sporting Kansas City’s 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact. Before kickoff, he ignited a sold-out Children’s Mercy Park of 20,334 by leading everyone in the “I believe that we will win!” chant.
Following the game, Santos chatted with Sporting KC players Benny Feilhaber and Igor Juliao. The trio of Brazilians laughed after Santos sparked the idea of joining them on the field in their next game.
“Cario is one of the top kickers in the NFL,” Feilhaber said. “It’s pretty cool to see him as the only Brazilian in the league. Maybe he will open the door for some more Brazilians who can be kickers in the NFL. They can be good at the position.”
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But football was never the plan for Santos. He didn’t even discover the sport until he was a teenager, when he moved to America as a foreign exchange student. When he found out the kicker position existed, he wanted to know more. Santos played NFL video games to learn the rules and later tried out for his high school football team.
Throughout his climb up the kicking ranks, Santos always looked up to a familiar face in Feilhaber.
“I love that we’re pretty much the same size, but different styles,” Santos said about Feilhaber. “I actually followed him before I came to the states. Now that I’ve gotten the opportunity to watch him up close, it’s a privilege to come here and be close to someone that was your idol growing up.”
Feilhaber stuck with soccer. Santos moved onto football.
He transitioned so well, he played college football at Tulane, where he won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best college kicker in 2012. Santos became the only Brazilian player in the NFL when he was signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Santos hasn’t just been good for the Chiefs, he’s been the franchise’s most accurate kicker. He is coming off his best season, when he made 31 of 35 field-goal attempts, 88.6 percent.
Saturday gave Santos a reminder of his favorite childhood sport. He jumped in-sync with fans during the “I believe” chant.
“I spend every week of the year following soccer,” Santos said. “Whether it be Flamengo in Brazil … I’m a big Chelsea fan, too. I follow Brazil. When I get home from practice I play FIFA. Soccer is part of my life. It’s part of my DNA.”