Few players accurately portray or represent the qualities his team espouses. But in the eyes of Mike Daniels, a defensive lineman who has first-hand experience of what the NFC North is all about, Akiem Hicks and the Bears might as well be one in the same.
This description will always stick with me.
“Akiem is the man. He doesn’t wear gloves. He got white tape. He just looks like … he looks like a Bear.”
And THAT is why I don’t believe the Bears are some 4-11-1 team. They’ve got Akiem Hicks. Other teams don’t.pic.twitter.com/bX6gcy6xw0
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) May 8, 2020
In case you need a reminder of what Daniels is talking about, look no further than Hicks’ performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. There aren’t many players who take rivalry games like Hicks, who plays them with the spirit of an overzealous high schooler wanting to make a splash on homecoming weekend. But he does it at a pro level. And with the vigor and tenacity one would come to expect in these grudge match games.
Check out Hicks’ line against the Vikings: 2 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, 2 tackles-for-loss, 5 total tackles (4 solo) in 34 defensive snaps. Impressive. Most impressive, indeed. That stat-stuffing night brought Hicks’ marks against Minnesota while in Chicago to a delicious 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles-for-loss, 22 quarterback hits, 23 solo tackles (32 total) in nine games.
Frankly, I just want to bottle that up and distribute it throughout Chicago’s locker room before the Bears’ season-finale in Minnesota. On top of that, I’d like to save an extra bottle for future usage — just in case Hicks doesn’t return in 2022.
Because remember: Hicks is a free-agent-to-be at season’s end. The four-year extension he signed at the start of the 2017 season expires when the 2021 league year ends in March. Between now and then, the Bears have ample time to iron out an extension. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Hicks was talking like someone who knows he has something to prove, gas in the tank, and an adoring audience ready to eat it up.
Then again, he was also speaking like someone with a grip on reality. But also, someone who was ready to let it all hang out:
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I just know, if I do end up leaving,” Hicks said. “I’ll miss it here.”
“I was pointing to the people that cheer for me,” Hicks said in response to a question about the emotional outpouring after his first QB sack since his return from injury. “The people that love me. The people that love how I play the game, letting them know I appreciate them. They’re always yelling my name. I wanted to show some love back.”
There were plenty of other worthwhile clips, but those two stood out the most.
I mean, how can you not want that guy back in 2022?
Don’t get me wrong. I understand aging curves. And I’m cognizant of how injuries have caused Hicks to miss a chunk of games in recent years. Sure, I get that defensive linemen don’t age gracefully. But I also understand the Bears’ tendency to do right by its most popular players. Especially the ones who are most productive. And while I also get that the team has done well in scooping up plug-and-play defensive linemen who put in good work at a value price tag, I can’t help but wonder if there is a happy medium for Hicks and the Bears to land on extension wise.
Hicks is the embodiment of what Chicago Bears football should be. This man is everything Bears ownership and management thinks this franchise is in terms of being a sleeping giant with pride and hunger. And if the Bears were truly wanting to get back to their identity, they’d find a way to bring Hicks back. Full stop.