Izzy in it for good

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:14 PM ET

Big Izzy gets his share of the spotlight in Dallas, the CFL loses its best Canadian and you can say goodbye to Yvenson Bernard.

Today, it’s a football trifecta, starting with the big man from Brandon, Israel Idonije, who grabbed some attention at the Super Bowl media centre on Friday.

Idonije was on the podium as one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, giving reporters a brief glimpse into the man we in Manitoba have known for a while.

A man who uses his platform as an NFL player to do some real good in the world.

While most of his fellow NFLers are satisfied with tackling opponents, Idonije tries to tackle issues like child education here in Winnipeg and Chicago, and poverty in Nigeria.

Makes his eight quarterback sacks for the Bears seem like child’s play, doesn’t it?

“The biggest heart in the NFL,” is how former Bears teammate Adewale Ogunleye described Idonije in the Chicago Tribune.

“He gives without wanting recognition. He not only writes the cheque, but he gets his hands dirty ... he should have won the award four straight years by now.”

That’s what I’ve been thinking each time I write about another of Idonije’s humanitarian efforts in Africa, where he and his foundation volunteers have helped dig wells for people who don’t have fresh water and provided medical care to people in desperate need of it.

Or when I watch him visit Sister MacNamara School on Sargent, one of five schools, the other four in Chicago, where Idonije has set up a stay-in-school incentive program.

The guy’s a walking, talking example of the best that pro athletes can be.

How big is Izzy in Chicago?

How about 8,600-square-feet big — the size of a likeness of him on a building along the Kennedy Expressway.

“Izzy goes above and beyond,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told the Tribune. “This guy really believes in what he’s doing.”

At the Super Bowl podium, Idonije took it all in stride.

“It’s been an incredible ride,” he said. “It’s funny how small steps just continue to grow and snowball and you look around on a day like today, and you’re amazed and say, ‘Wow.’”

The other award finalists are Vikings safety Madieu Williams and Nnamdi Asomugha of the Raiders.

The NFL will announce the winner before Sunday’s Super Bowl.

FOLLOWING THE LEADER: As inspirational as Idonije has been off the field, the CFL’s top Canadian says Idonije paved the way for his own NFL dream.

Andy Fantuz, the CFL’s leading receiver with Saskatchewan, paid a debt of gratitude to the former U of M Bison after he signed a contract with the Bears on Friday.

“He really has been an inspiration to not only me but a lot of CIS players who dream of making it to the NFL,” Fantuz told chicagobears.com.

Fantuz’s departure leaves a huge hole in the Riders lineup.

Wonder if this means they’ll enter the Chris Bauman sweepstakes?

BYE-BYE BERNARD: The departure of soon-to-be free agent running back Yvenson Bernard is virtually a fait accompli, as the Blue Bombers have all but given up on re-signing the two-year vet.

“I hate to see Yvenson go,” assistant GM Ross Hodgkinson told the Sun. “Given his circumstances and lack of playing time, he was always a consummate professional and just a fabulous guy. I don’t begrudge him that. He probably deserves that chance.”

Stuck behind Fred Reid here, it’ll be interesting to see what Bernard can do, given an opportunity.

In an e-mail to the Sun, Bernard said he’s been so busy with his Haiti foundation he hasn’t had much time to think about free agency.

Like Idonije, this is another guy with his head screwed on right.

Now someone just give him the ball.


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