In the coming days in the Bears’ sphere, there’s going to be a lot of eulogies for the Matt Nagy era. Many will justifiably look ahead to what’s next for Justin Fields and whether, for the first time, the Bears can make something of a quarterback. You’ll see these ideas presented everywhere, especially on this fair site, and probably even from me.
So, for now, I want to cast the limelight on someone else who deserves every bit of the attention.
It’s someone who is likely making his last appearance in a Bears uniform: Akiem Hicks.
In terms of individual achievement and leadership (both by example and action), I find it challenging to think of many people who exemplified what it means to be a professional football player for the Chicago Bears than Akiem Hicks. That he even sometimes audibly growled like an actual bear when mauling offensive linemen on his way to quarterbacks is a fitting cherry on top. To the very bone, to the essence of who he is, he was a Bear.
Signed by the Bears in 2016, Hicks spent most of his early career as a reserve and depth player with the Saints and Patriots. He was talented but never had a chance to shine full-time as much as he knew he could until arriving in Chicago. Over the next six seasons, the mammoth defensive end etched himself into Bears history forever.
In 78 starts on the lakefront, Hicks amassed 247 tackles, 88 quarterback hits, 51 tackles for loss, and 31.5 sacks. Add an extra oomph of passion and energy into every play he made, and it’s hard to think of a more emblematic Bears defensive player in recent memory than this 320-plus pound monster. Over the last half-decade, whether anyone said it out loud or not (and they did say it often), Hicks was the ever-productive heart and soul of the Bears. He became a household name on a team that could never consistently rise to his example. To stand out despite a mountain of ineptitude is quite the achievement if you ask me.
There have probably been better Bears players never to win a playoff game in a Bears uniform, let alone a championship. But that postulating doesn’t matter right now. Hicks is undoubtedly near the top of such a list and deserved more team success. The last time he wears an orange C on his helmet for a player like him shouldn’t have been a game in frigid Minnesota where the Bears have nothing to play for but their pride. But the difference between what should’ve happened and what actually happens in pro football never aligns the same way we romanticize this silly game. And so it goes.
Hicks gave the Bears everything he had and much, much more.
If only, for once, they could’ve done the same.
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