Journey of discovery

On Sunday, Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije reached the pinnacle of pro football, suiting...

On Sunday, Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije reached the pinnacle of pro football, suiting up in the Super Bowl. (Sun Media File/Brian Donogh)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Of all my years covering the Izzy Idonije story, one thing always struck me -- besides the sheer size of the man, that is.

His confidence.

From his years with the U of M Bisons to his first NFL tryout with Cleveland back in 2003, Idonije always had his sights set on the top.

"I'm going to make it," Idonije told me in September of '03, when he was on the Browns practice roster. A month later, the man-mountain from Brandon was released. But discouraged? Not a chance.

"I know I can definitely play in that league," he said, and less than a year later he proved it, suiting up for the Chicago Bears in his first NFL game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

On Sunday, Idonije, now a three-year NFL veteran, reached the pinnacle of pro football, suiting up for the Bears in the Super Bowl.

And while his rise from nine-man football in Brandon to the Bisons to the Bears has been well-documented, the key stop on Idonije's improbable football odyssey probably took place in Berlin, of all places.

It was the 2004 World Bowl, NFL Europe's championship game.

Saying he'd finally "figured it out," Idonije picked up a sack to help the Berlin Thunder win the title.

A few months later he was in the NFL, and he hasn't looked back.

It didn't go the Bears' way Sunday, and Idonije is now one-for-three in title games (his Bisons lost the 2001 Vanier Cup).

But his NFL future looks pretty bright.

His Chicago contract runs through 2009. And while the Bears will get injured defensive tackle Tommie Harris back next season, two other tackles, Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone, could become free agents.

The future of Tank Johnson, who has off-field legal issues, could also affect Idonije's standing.

Of course, the Bears could also move him to end, where he'd be free to become the pass rusher he's always wanted to be.

As much fun as it's been to watch Idonije's journey to the NFL, it'll be just as interesting to see where the road leads next.

ANOTHER 'TOBAN ON A QUEST: It may not quite match the long odds of Idonije's story, but what Barry Trotz has done as a coach in the NHL is nothing short of remarkable.

Trotz's Nashville Predators are the top team in the loop with a 37-14-3 record. Not bad for a guy who grew up in Dauphin and cut his coaching teeth with the MJHL's Dauphin Kings and U of M Bisons.

The only thing left for Trotz to do -- he's been with the Preds since their inception nine seasons ago -- is to take his team on a playoff run.

Nashville has made the playoffs twice, but lost in the first round both times.

"Before you have long-term success, you probably have a few failures," Trotz said during an NHL conference call yesterday. "You can almost look at every Stanley Cup champion in the last, probably, 10, 12, 15 years, all those teams probably had a little bit of disappointment before they had ultimate success in winning the Cup. Maybe last year was a little bit of our disappointment. Hopefully we can go deeper and have a shot at the Cup."

Trotz is the NHL's second-longest serving head coach, behind Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, and there's a lesson for all the trigger-happy teams that change coaches like they change socks.

"We had to build this team a certain way through the draft. We had to be patient," Trotz said. "We had to sign the right guys when we had an opportunity to. There were times where I didn't know if I was going to be around, because in this world it's all about winning and losing. I'm a better coach now than I was eight years ago."

The Preds were smart enough to give him that chance.


Videos

Photos