Cairo Santos learned the rules of football by watching "Madden" on his Xbox. He went undrafted in May, is so youthful that he looks closer to 14 than 22, and on Sunday, he will replace the most accurate kicker in Kansas City history when the Kansas City Chiefs open the season against Tennessee.
When Santos made the team this past weekend, his holder, Dustin Colquitt, figured those were the least of their concerns.
"The biggest thing I was worried about," Colquitt said, "was trying to find a jersey and helmet that could fit him.
"Kyle (Crumbaugh, the Chiefs' assistant equipment manager) did a great job getting that thing hemmed up, and he’s going to look tight on game day."
When the microphone was lowered to accommodate his 5-foot-8, 175-pound body during a post-practice interview session Monday, Santos played along. "Got a stool?" he cracked. Santos is so excited to make the 53-man roster that he doesn’t care what anyone calls him.
He beat out five-year veteran Ryan Succop for the job after a heated training-camp competition in which both were perfect, nailing each of their field goal and extra-point attempts in the preseason. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said the competition was so close that Santos just beat Succop "by a hair." But Santos has the stronger leg, and is considerably cheaper, as Succop was to make $2 million this season, and Santos will earn $422,000.
So the rookie apparently becomes the first Brazilian-born player to crack an NFL active roster, at least that is what he believes. (Brazilian Damian Vaughn was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1998 but doesn’t appear to have played in a game). Santos said his hometown of Sao Paulo was "freaking out" over the news of him making the roster.
He took a long road to Kansas City. He came to the United States in high school as a foreign exchange student, and didn’t know anything about football when he arrived in St. Augustine, Florida. That is where Madden came in, and he studied kickers such as Mason Crosby and Mike Nugent. Santos was wide-eyed when he played against both of them in the preseason.
But he has yet to be intimidated. The 2012 Lou Groza winner from Tulane drilled a 44-yarder in a preseason game at Carolina, and Colquitt has marveled over the hang time on his kickoffs.
This isn’t Reid’s first time gambling with a rookie kicker. In 2011 in Philadelphia, he made rookie Alex Henery his starter, and Henery went on to set an NFL record for accuracy as a rookie. Henery was also part of the weekend purge of kickers.
For the Chiefs, saying goodbye to Succop was emotional. He had worked with Colquitt for five years, and they had become extremely tight. Their wives were good friends. Santos also developed a strong bond with the veteran. He said Succop mentored him, teaching him how to read the wind at Arrowhead Stadium, knowing that if Santos succeeded, it could very well cost him his job.
"Not only is he a great dude," Santos said. "I feel like I became close friends with him. Having that great friendship here kind of made the process easy."
Both Santos and Colquitt were confident Succop would land on his feet, and by Monday afternoon, Succop appeared to find a home. With Tennessee, the Chiefs' opponent on Sunday.