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Idonije is Homeward Bound



    Idonije is Homeward Bound
    Getty Images
    Israel Idonije

    The Bears' game against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday is being played in Toronto, and that means Israel Idonije is going home.

    "He's from Canada?" Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher deadpanned.

    Yes, Nigerian born, Canadian raised since the age of five when his parents moved to Manitoba.

    "I'm Canadian," Idonije explained while surrounded by reporters in the Bears locker room.  "It's a chance to play at home and on Canadian soil, it's big."

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    Idonije is big as well.  At 6'7" tall, he played the national sport of hockey growing up.

    "Hockey and curling and all those good things," Idonije explained.  Curling?  Well, not exactly.  "No I don't curl," the Bears lineman said with a laugh.

    Idonije grew up in Masse, Manitoba, where kids dream of being the next Doug Flutie for the Canadian Football League.

    Not Israel.

    "I loved Michael Jordan," he said.

    He loved the Bulls and loved playing basketball throughout high school.  Until his mother forced him to tryout for the football team his senior year.

    "I didn't want to go, it was a two and a half hour tryout.  I was 17.  I went out made the team, even though I didn't want to be there."

    Idonije excelled at his new sport.  So much he received a scholarship to play collegiate at the University of Manitoba.  But taking his game to the next level?  Unheard of.  No one from Manitoba ever made it to the NFL.  Idonije's only chance was to go to the NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis, uninvited. 

    He did.  And he stood outside handing out VHS tapes of his games in Canada.  A handful of scouts promised to come north of the border to see him play.  But only one showed up.

    "A scout from the Cleveland Browns came to look at a kicker at Winnipeg Blue Bombers," Idonije said.  "They suggested he go look at 'this big kid' at the University of Manitoba."  Idonije recalled laughing.  "He sat in his car freezing at the practice."

    But the Browns signed Idonije as an undrafted free agent.  He was released and the Bears signed him November 17, 2003 -- Idonije's birthday.

    "It's been quite a journey," he conceded. 

    Indeed, Idonije went from playing special teams, to being a utility lineman, to now starting opposite Julius Peppers.  Idonije broke out with a career high 2.5 sacks at Carolina October 10th.

    His journey has been spotted with accomplishments.  He's the first Manitoban in the NFL and the first to play in the Super Bowl.  He was honored with the Honor of the Buffalo in Manitoba for his community service work.  Now he's hoping his first American Football game on Canadian soil will send a message to kids back home.

    "To let them know there's no limits," he said.