As the Bears battled the Green Bay Packers in Chicago Sunday for a spot in the Super Bowl, one player had plenty of support from another windy city.
Family, friends, former teammates and coaches were all tuned in as Israel Idonije -- raised in Brandon, schooled at the University of Manitoba -- took his spot as a vital part of the Bears' defence playing for the NFC title Sunday.
The Bears came up short though, and Green Bay advanced to the NFL's marquee game, winning 21-14.
While it was tough for those close to him to see Idonije just miss out on a second trip to the Super Bowl, they know the well-grounded 30-year-old will take it in stride.
When the Bears lost in the Super Bowl four years ago to the Indianapolis Colts, Idonije was a special teams and backup player. This season, the 6-foot-6 defensive end had a breakout year, tying for the team lead in quarterback sacks with eight.
"Izzy really exploded this year," said Brian Dobie, Idonije's former coach with the U of M Bisons. "He had a great year and we're so proud of him."
Idonije was a fixture of the Bears defence that struggled for most of the game Sunday afternoon to contain Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"I feel for him," Dobie said. "When you're that close and you can taste it, it's pretty tough. The bottom line is, you get very few chances as an athlete to win the ultimate prize."
Idonije's always been highly-motivated and full of self belief -- he didn't even start playing football until Grade 12 and worked his way, undrafted, into the NFL -- so his sister Praise, who watched the game with family in Winnipeg, is confident he won't take the loss too hard.
"Nobody wants to lose, but at the end of the day it's a game and I think he feels there is so much more that we have to live for," Praise said.
While Idonije won't play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Arlington, Tex., on Feb. 6., he's still in the running for one award on Super Bowl Sunday.
He's one of three community-minded NFL players nominated for the league's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Idonije is up against Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders and Madieu Williams of Minnesota Vikings for the award named after the Bears' legendary running back who died in 1999. The award honours a player's off-field community service and the winner will be announced before the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.
Idonije was nominated on the strength of the foundation bearing his name that he created in 2007. His Israel Idonije Foundation and First Down Attendance Program works to encourage economically-disadvantaged students in Winnipeg and Chicago to thrive in school. The foundation also does work in Africa, where Idonije was born.
"He's worked really hard and the foundation is very important to him," Praise said. "It's a prestigious award and we're really happy for him to be nominated."