Over the past three days, in the aftermath of the Bears100 celebration, players and coaches at Halas Hall have spoken extensively about how large an impression the event left on them. Whether it was Jim McMahon passing down his trademark headband to Mitch Trubisky or Richard Dent talking shop with Khalil Mack, it’s become increasingly clear that the 2019 Bears are whole-heartedly embracing the expectations that past players and fans have placed on this season.
There was perhaps no clearer sign of that than during the panel featuring Akiem Hicks, Dan Hampton, Ed O’Bradovich and Tommie Harris. After getting pep talks from the latter three, Hicks grabbed a mic, gave a well-delivered line about accepting their challenges, and sat back as those in the crowd cheered themselves into a frenzy, eventually breaking out into a ‘Super Bowl’ chant. A bit of fan service, sure, but Hicks nonetheless welcomes the pressure from those that came before him.
“I've gotten to talk to Dan Hampton before and I have a lot of respect for him and his knowledge of the game,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “And so to actually listen to him tell an auditorium full of people that he expects greatness from me puts a weight on your shoulders. And I love to lift, so we're going to get after it.”
Nothing wins Chicago over quite like a good Bears defense, something Hicks is well aware of. A first-time Pro Bowler last season who was recently named one of the team's Top 100 Players of All-Time, he’s well-versed in the illustrious history -- not to mention daunting standards -- of his position.
“This town loves defense, so when our defense came out [at Bears100], the excitement and energy that was in that room was awesome,” he said. “Then when I did the panel and I got to be next to some of the all-time Bears greats -- especially playing my position -- there's nothing like it. If you have a deep respect for the history and you have a deep respect for just football in general, like I did growing up, it's so rewarding.”
Being a leader in the NFL doesn’t happen strictly between the lines, something Hicks learned during the early years of his career spent in New Orleans. Now, during each week of the season, the entire defense will go over to his house for dinner. Attendance is required.
“Every week we’ll eat at Akiem’s house and watch Thursday Night Football,” Prince Amukamara said. “He’s the one who leads that and he makes sure that we all do something together at least once a week. He definitely makes it mandatory, and if you don’t go you’ll hear about it.”
Chinese food (his preference) is usually on the menu; it is his house after all. With that said, lately Hicks has opened the floor to the suggestions of his teammates - a move so painfully in-line with the Bears' We-Not-Me mantra that somewhere Matt Nagy is randomly fist-pumping. Since then they've cooked some steaks and had a few barbecues.
“When you're around guys often and you take that time aside, not just from football and work, but actually get to know each other and spend time with one another — not anything sappy — but just enjoying each other's company, it makes you really care for a person,” he said. “You'll do things for your brother that you wouldn't do for a friend. So when you really treat your teammates like brothers and you have that energy, it just makes for a great experience out on the field.”