Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks ready for one last shot at rival Packers
‘‘I would challenge you to find another person on this team that has bled and fought and lived and died with this team the way that I have,’’ Hicks said.
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is staring down his final few weeks with the Bears.
He hesitates to say it out loud, but he speaks with a sense of finality. Hicks, 32, is in the final year of his contract, and the Bears have shown little interest in re-signing him.
‘‘I’m going to revisit that in January, but what I can tell you now is that I’ve appreciated these last six years playing here in Chicago,’’ Hicks said Friday. ‘‘I would challenge you to find another person on this team that has bled and fought and lived and died with this team the way that I have. Whatever comes from that, I accept.
‘‘But as far as right now, I’m just ready to play some more football.’’
There’s no one he rather would face Sunday than the rival Packers. And he will.
After a week in which he was limited in practice, Hicks expects to play for the first time since he sprained his ankle Nov. 8 against the Steelers.
He has done this before. In October, he rushed back from a groin injury and played 41% of the Bears’ defensive snaps against the Packers. He sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but his groin hurt even as he celebrated. In 2019, he returned from a grisly dislocated elbow to face the Packers. In both instances, Hicks admits he came back too soon. But the alternative — missing a game against the Packers — would have been worse.
Rivalries always have had that effect on Hicks. Playing at Del Campo High School outside Sacramento, California, he targeted El Camino and Bella Vista high schools. At the University of Regina-Saskatchewan, it was the Calgary Dinos. With the Saints, it was the Falcons.
‘‘No matter where you are,’’ he said, ‘‘you want to beat the bully down the street.’’
Injuries have limited Hicks to 53% of the Bears’ defensive snaps this season. But his attitude toward a series that matters more to Bears fans than anything else is more impressive than any stat line he has put up all season.
‘‘They understand the magnitude of the rivalry,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘And so Akiem has been somebody who — you’ve seen over his career — has been able to do everything he can to get out there and play.’’
It would be easy for Hicks to protect himself and his future earnings — he wants to play three or four more years — by not returning to the field until he felt completely healthy. The Bears are 4-8, after all, and don’t have Hicks in their long-term plans.
That’s not how he’s wired, though.
‘‘Never been one of those people,’’ he said. ‘‘I think that’s a particular class of person. I was paid to come here and do a job, and I take that very seriously. Not just paid, paid well. So when you step out on the field, you can’t hold anything back.
‘‘When you’re in the locker room and you’re getting ready for the next game, the organization doesn’t deserve that, as well as my teammates. Everything that I can do and everything that’s in my power, it always gets done.’’
He felt good against the Steelers before he hurt his ankle.
‘‘The first three quarters against Pittsburgh, you couldn’t find anybody hotter on the field,’’ he said. ‘‘People were getting hit; people were laying down. I know how to play this game at a high level.’’
But Hicks didn’t finish the game. By the time the team plane landed in Chicago, his ankle had swollen grotesquely. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that it went down, allowing him to begin running.
Sitting out the games in between was ‘‘somewhat misery, somewhat very humbling’’ and ‘‘very frustrating,’’ Hicks said.
There’s nothing more maddening, he said, than watching his teammates on television.
‘‘What I’ve broken it down to is that it’s a football life,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s part of the journey, some of these hurdles and some of these obstacles. Hopefully I’ll look back and remember all the good instead of some of the troubling times and the adversity. But I think even then I’ll be able to look at them and say, ‘It was a football life,’ you know?’ ’’
His looming departure from the Bears is also part of that football life. Hicks tried to land a contract extension during training camp but was rebuffed.
‘‘At first it hurt, then I understood,’’ he said. ‘‘Ultimately, I respect the decisions that are made.’’
It hurt then. It hurts now.
‘‘The unfortunate reality of our business sometimes is that no matter what you do, no matter what situation you put yourself in, all good things come to an end,” Hicks said.