DEARBORN, Mich. -- There was a chance that Willie Young could have returned to Michigan much earlier than Saturday, that his cameo appearance at Stephen Tulloch's charity softball game would have been just another weekend.
Young spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, first as a reserve defensive end before blossoming into a starter in 2013. Then, with a chance to move on after last season, he took it, he departed for the division rival Chicago Bears during free agency.
Even if staying in Detroit was an apparent option.
“They did [show interest] but we definitely broke ways on good terms,” Young said. “I definitely enjoyed my years here, I can say that. Thankful for the opportunity I was able to create for myself here and landing me in Chicago right now.”
Thus far, his time with the Bears has been uneventful. He lives by the team’s practice facility. He said in his first month or so of living in Chicago, he has been downtown twice.
He’ll eventually get down there more often, but he said he has spent his time trying to learn his second NFL playbook with his second NFL team and to be comfortable with all of the new things he is learning. He said the Bears’ scheme, a 4-3 like what the Lions ran under Gunther Cunningham, isn’t too much different than what he played in during his time in Detroit.
But getting used to new surroundings is still a change.
One thing that won’t change for Young this season is Thanksgiving. Even though he’ll be part of the opponent, he’ll spend his fifth straight Thanksgiving playing football at Ford Field -- this time as part of the Bears.
“It’s a little bit more than another game,” Young said. “I keep saying it’s just another game, but the thing is you’re playing against guys that you practiced against for so many years.”
Young felt a bond formed there. It’s part of the reason why even though he left the Lions, he drove the four-plus hours -- including, he said, traffic and a flat tire -- to show up at Tulloch’s charity event.
He wanted to show support and visit with his former teammates, much the same as Cleveland wide receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson was released by the Lions in February but also showed up at the game to hang out with the Lions.
To both men, this showed there was something more to their time in Detroit other than football.
“It definitely means a lot. It does. It absolutely does. Just to know that guys go against each other, all day every day,” Young said. “On Sundays, it looks like we’re out to decapitate each other but at the end of the day, somewhere along the way, some people lose sight of the fact that it’s a brotherhood to me.
“I don’t know, man. I really just, you feel the brotherhood and it doesn’t change. Especially with the guys you sweat with every day, line up with every day, put your hand in the dirt with every day, fight with, all that.”
That’s why Young was welcomed back, even if he’ll be playing for a rival next season. He was once a part of them and even though his jersey may have changed -- that bond still remains.