Israel Idonije has Sept. 29 and Nov. 10 circled on his calendar.
Those are the days the Detroit Lions will face their arch rivals, the Chicago Bears, this season. After spending nine years in the Windy City, the Canadian defensive lineman will don the Lions’ colours this season after signing a one-year deal in Motown as a free agent.
The six-foot-six, 271-pound Idonije, a native of Nigeria who grew up in Brandon, Man., has no axe to grind against his former team.
“Every week you prepare to play a different team, that’s football,” Idonije said during a telephone interview this week. “I know it’s a business and it’s all part of it.
“Chicago has a new regime there and wanted its own people and I understand that. Now, I’m just looking forward to suiting up and getting after it on the field twice a year when we play the Bears. I feel the same way when I play the Cleveland Browns because I was with them my first year and I always make sure they remember I was once a Brown.”
The articulate Idonije originally signed with Cleveland in 2003 as an undrafted free agent following his college career at Brandon. He began the season on the Browns practice roster but was waived before joining Chicago’s practice roster later that year.
Idonije spent nine seasons with the Bears, registering 28.5 career sacks and 272 tackles over 134 career games. He had a career-best 7.5 sacks last year and new GM Phil Emery — who hired former CFL head coach Marc Trestman this off-season — wanted Idonije back but at substantially less than the US$2.5 million the 32-year-old defensive lineman earned in 2012.
Idonije had met with both Tennessee and San Francisco this off-season before reaching an agreement with Detroit. Contract details weren’t divulged but Idonije will reportedly receive $1.005 million with the Lions — the $940,000 veteran minimum along with a $65,000 signing bonus.
Idonije gives the Lions plenty of flexibility on its defensive line as he played both tackle and end effectively in Chicago. The expectation is Idonije will see more time on the outside with Detroit given that Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have established themselves as starters at tackle.
The addition of Idonije would also give the Lions the luxury of bringing defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah, the fifth overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, along slowly.
Although he signed a one-year contract, Idonije says he has plenty of good football left.
“I think I have two, three great years still in me,” he said. “My first six years I didn’t really play a lot and I think that helped save my body.
“The last three years I’ve been able to play at a high level and I’m looking forward to doing what I can to help the Detroit Lions win a championship.”
Idonije played in Super bowl XLI when Chicago squared off against Indianapolis in the rain at Miami but it was the Colts who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy afterwards following a 29-17 victory.
While Idonije will have to adjust to a new team and city, there will be a sense of familiarity for him in Detroit. The Lions, like the Bears, are part of the NFC North (Green Bay and Minnesota are the other division rivals) which means they’ll play six games against teams Idonije has faced often over his NFL career.
“Detroit just seemed like the best fit for me,” he said. “When you look at the guys I’ll be lining up with (on the defensive line) and all the weapons they have on offence, it was a great opportunity.
“It’s tough leaving Chicago after being there so long . . . but again you have to look at this as a business. When you do, it becomes easier to make that adjustment and focus on the next step.”
Idonije certainly stayed busy while his football future sorted itself out this off-season.
He operates Blessed Communion — a company that manufactures communion products — as well as his charity, the Israel Idonije Foundation, both in Chicago. And earlier this year Idonije unveiled “The Protectors,” his debut comic book series roughly three years after he created Altheta Comics, a publishing company.
“It’s something I started working on in 2007 at training camp,” Idonije said. “It’s a story about athletes who must save the world from an evil force looking to enslave all of humanity.”
Idonije comes by his love of comics honestly, saying he became a big fan of them as a youth. His first exposure was with a Green Lantern series and he became hooked immediately.
But don’t expect Idonije to feature himself in The Protectors.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I just think we’re telling a great story and I’ve got a few more I’d like to see unfold in the future.”