In the weeks following the 2002 win, Santos began calculating how old he would be when the next few World Championships began. He looked up to these athletes and admired the way they represented Brazil. He spent months on the soccer field in his backyard, repeating Ronaldo Nazário’s goals from the last game.
A 31-year-old NFL kicker, Santos will watch Brazil play from Vernon Hills, Illinois. When Brazil’s first World Cup game against Serbia kicks off at 1pm CT on Thursday, he will be training at Halas Hall. But he’s hoping to catch the second half at home with his mother, wife and two children.
“When practice is over, it’s about halfway through the game, so I’ll rush home,” said Santos. “My family will already cook the Brazilian dishes. I’ll get together with my family and probably also call friends and family from Brazil, FaceTime them and talk about the game, celebrate together. So yeah, I’m just super excited about football season that we can see NFL and the World Cup.”
While watching football in the United States is nothing like back home, where the sport and tournament are “revered,” Santos is beginning to see a greater interest in the sport.
He’s even starting to see a different side of his teammates as he’s had many questions asked about different teams, how the tournament works and even who he thinks the favorites are. There were many discussions about the World Championship with the other specialists, punter Trenton Gill and longsnapper Patrick Scales.
“Trent, he’s from a Canadian-English background so he’s great at it,” said Santos. “Scale is funny because he has no idea about football. So he just explains how the tournament works, what the groups are and how many games they play and stuff like that. So it’s always fun to explain it to him because we talk about it and then he’s just like, ‘Man, that’s super cool, the format is amazing how much each game means, that’s why we celebrate so hard.'”
Santos said many of the offensive linemen, particularly rookie center Doug Kramer, have expressed their growing football fandom. In the last few days, as the games started, Santos noticed that many of his teammates were watching games at breakfast or between meetings at the Bears’ facility.
Santos is confident Brazil will bring home their sixth World Cup, but it’s not just because of his fondness for his hometown. Before the tournament, Brazil is ranked No. 1 in the world according to FIFA. Santos hopes Brazil’s talented players like veteran striker Neymar can finally clinch a World Cup.
“I think it’s a very strong shot to win,” said Santos. “But we’ve always had good teams and that pressure increases every World Cup because there’s a generation of great players and you want to capitalize and win and crown those players with the World Cup but it’s just such a difficult thing. You only have to be there for seven games. I’m so excited to see it.”
As the first Brazilian NFL player, Santos is committed to spreading information and getting children more interested in football at home and helping them achieve their goal of playing professionally.
While Santos moved to St. Augustine, Fla. as a second grader in high school to pursue a professional soccer career, he was immediately introduced to soccer at St. Joseph Academy when the school’s team asked him to be the kicker . While still playing competitive soccer, Santos fell in love with soccer.
“I was a Brazilian kid just pursuing this dream of going to America to be a professional soccer player,” Santos said, “so I didn’t have any tools to be successful in American football other than just knowing how to kick a ball So there are kids who dream about it and I hope that through the messages I receive I can inspire and have the same inspiration that these legendary soccer players had when I was a 10-year-old kid in Brazil when I was just learned about soccer.