Throughout his five seasons in a Bears uniform, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has been open about how he feels about facing his old team.
Hicks played three full seasons for the New Orleans Saints before the team switched to a 4-3 defense and traded Hicks to the New England Patriots midseason. In the past, Hicks has been candid about his disappointment in the way things ended in New Orleans.
Heading into Sunday's game, however, he's feeling a little different.
"It's always an important game," said Hicks, "but I would say this: there was an instance about six or seven weeks ago, I don't know how many weeks ago actually, I was on Instagram and I saw [the Saints] highlight [former receiver] Marques Colston's highlights, and it just brought back so many fond memories of my time spent there, and It pulled me away from my usual animosity of that jersey color."
Colston played 10 seasons with the Saints before retiring a few months after Hicks was traded. The memory of his former teammate put things into perspective for the nine-year veteran.
"I started to remember just how much the game means to you," said Hicks, "and the fellowship and the bond that you make with players over the years, one of those being a friend that I have there currently in [defensive end] Cam Jordan. You know, you don't lose those types of relationships and overall, they make it a positive experience."
Lest anyone think that Hicks has wholly forgotten the lead-up to being traded for reserve tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, Hicks emphasized that he's still partially driven by the events of 2015.
"Do I appreciate how I was cast aside?" said Hicks. "How I was told that I wasn't good enough to play in this league or that I wasn't good enough to play for that team? No, I don't appreciate those things. You never forget, but you can't carry hate in your heart, you know what I'm saying? I would also say that, man, you just appreciate those moments. I wouldn't say it loses its luster."
Hicks stressed that his personal animus, or lack thereof, would not affect the way he plays on Sunday.
"You still want to be competitive," said Hicks, "and you still want to play a great game. But at the end of the day, you have to remember that this game isn't just about me. This game is about my team, my season and what we're planning to do for our future, so you gotta put some of those things to the side and remember there's a bigger picture."
The matchup against the Saints could provide special motivation for several players. Defensive tackle John Jenkins played two seasons with Hicks in New Orleans before being cut in 2016. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. arrived in Chicago in September, days after being released.
Most prominent, tight end Jimmy Graham was also traded in 2015, albeit in the offseason and for a significant return (center Max Unger and a first-round pick). While Graham did not speak to the media on Friday, Hicks stated that he believes they agree on the issue.
"We just want to play the game," said Hicks. "We wanna play the game of football, and not make it about ourselves or about this feeling of like I said, animosity or hatred towards a situation that we had to deal with, because that's the business side of football."
More than anything, the Saints game will be a benchmark in Hicks' stellar second act, which has seen him record 27.5 sacks with the Bears and earn a Pro Bowl selection in 2018.
"There are going to be people in all walks of life that tell you that you're not good enough," said Hicks. "Your job is to not just prove them wrong, but prove to yourself that you're capable of doing the things that you want to do. So I would say this: Me and Jimmy, we're ready to play football just like we always are. We're both going to be passionate. We're both going to be aggressive. That's just our style of play."