After the game he still wasn’t quite sure of one thing:
Were Cincinnati Bengals fans chanting “Nuuuuuge!” like they used to do when he played here for seven seasons?
Or were they giving him a chorused “Booooo”?
“I don’t know for sure, but I think it was ‘Booooo,’” Mike Nugent said with a smile as he stood at his locker in the visitors’ dressing room at Paul Brown Stadium. “Actually, I’ve never been booed in an away stadium before.”
It’s only natural that Bengals fans may have had a mixed reaction to the Chicago Bears kicker from Centerville High School.
He’s a player who has cemented himself into the Bengals record books – he’s the third-leading scorer in Bengals history and holds the single-season scoring record (132 points in 2011) – but Sunday he was racking up the points for the opposition.
He finished the day with nine points and Cincinnati had just seven.
That led to an easy 33-7 Bears victory over a 5-8 Bengals team that was riddled with injuries and deflated by seeming disinterest.
Nugent had no such problem, although he did admit Sunday felt “surreal.”
“I don’t know it that’s quite the right word, but I did have kind of a funny feeling,” he said. “For seven years here I was used to coming out of a certain locker room and being on a certain sideline .”
After being with the New York Jets four seasons and then playing four games with Tampa Bay and two with Arizona, Nugent was signed by the Bengals as a free agent in the spring of 2010.
It was a childhood dream come true. He had been a Bengals fan since he was 4 years old. As a little kid he had a Cincinnati uniform and helmet – his mom claims she has some “cute” photos of him as a mini Bengal – and he and his brother started going to games with their parents back when the team played at Riverfront Stadium.
He lasted seven seasons here and was often a fan favorite – hence the Nuuuuuge” cheer – but last season he stumbled a bit. He missed kicks in five of his last six games – he was the same 23 for 29 in field goal attempts and extra points on the season – and was cut by the team on Dec. 13.
“I dug myself into a hole for a few weeks last year and the Bengals did everything they could to help me out of it,” he said. “But at the time I just couldn’t get out of it.”
This preseason he got a tryout from the New York Giants and made all five of his field goal attempts, but the team decided to go with rookie kicker Aldrick Rosas.
He signed with the Dallas Cowboys in October and went 7 for 9 in his field goal attempts and was a perfect 8 for 8 on extra points, but then injured kicker Dan Bailey returned to claim his position.
Nugent returned to Arizona where he now lives with his wife and daughter and last Sunday he got a call from the Bears. He immediately flew to Chicago and signed with the team on Monday.
“Any time I get a call from a team I look at their schedule to see who they’re playing next,” he said. “At first I couldn’t believe it was the Bengals, but then I thought, ‘I’m lucky. I know the stadium and I know that team.’
“When I first came back to the stadium I thought about some of the negative stuff that had happened, but that was overtaken pretty quickly by all the good times I had here.”
He said pregame warmups felt a little bit like “a family reunion.”
Once the game started it took the Bears just four minutes to score a touchdown but he missed the extra point, bouncing it off an upright.
“It’s kind of like throwing a strike or shooting a free throw,” he said. “When you try to place it, you stiffen up a little and it doesn’t go where you want it to. I realized after that I just had to relax and swing through it.”
The 35-year-old kicker did just that and from then on he was fine. He made field goals from 34 and 27 yards and hit his next three extra points.
When the game ended he was corralled by several Bengals players.
Punter Kevin Huber – his old holder – got to him first and gave him a bear hug.
Several other players and coaches followed and he spent the longest time standing at midfield talking with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
“He’s been one of the most supportive people I’ve ever been around,” Nugent said. “He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met. He’s just absolutely incredible He’s given me all kinds of support off the field. Even today he wished me luck, but said he hoped at least one kick would be off.”
That made Nugent laugh: “I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
As he got ready to leave the dressing room Sunday and go meet his wife, mom, brother and brother’s father in law, he felt a little nostalgic.
“I have nothing but love for everyone in the Bengals organization. I was treated wonderfully here.
“It’s sad I can’t call these guys my teammates anymore, but I have friends here for life.”
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