For a consecutive season, a former Indianapolis Colts franchise great could go out as a Super Bowl Champion–only this time it’s prolific pass rusher Dwight Freeney.
Of course, it will be easier said than done as just like Peyton Manning last year, Freeney will have to get through one of the most imposing duo’s in NFL history–‘the B&B boys’: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, if he wants to have another Super Bowl ring.
While Brady and Freeney have a bit of a history–being among the best players on their teams that had one of the most heated head-to-head rivalries in recent memory (when #93 was wearing the Horseshoe), the 36 year old seems to have nothing but respect for the Patriots longtime star quarterback (via ProFootballTalk):
"Ex-Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney, shown celebrating a sack, is looking for a new team. (Photo: Matt Detrich, USA TODAY Sports)“The thing is, I try to hate the guy, but I can’t because he is a good guy,” said Freeney on Brady earlier this week. “I know him personally off the field, too – he is a good dude. I guess it comes with the territory, just playing as long as I have been and as long as he has been.”“We have had a rivalry in the Colts versus the Patriots for years – it was like they were in our division since we played them twice a year, because we played them once in the regular season and once in the postseason. We knocked them out, they knocked us out, so it is kind of those things where you know it is going to be a battle.”"
In fact, Freeney seems to have high regards for the Patriots organization as a whole–knowing this has all the looks of another dogfight:
"“You know it is going to be a war,” added Freeney. “At the end, you have so much respect for them because of the fact that they are such a great franchise and they can continually make it to this moment year in and year out, even when they have changes on the team. They go through adversity throughout the years.”"
As it stands, this will be Freeney’s third Super Bowl appearance.
The 15-year veteran appeared in 15 games (1 start) for the Atlanta Falcons this past season, recording 3.0 sacks and 10 tackles as a situational pass rusher.
However, Freeney’s greatest contribution to this year’s NFC Champions may have actually been his mentorship of young emerging pass rusher Vic Beasley, who has credited the veteran with helping his development and overall maturation–breaking out with 15.5 sacks on the season:
"Jan 28, 2012; Honolulu, HI, USA; AFC defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts (93) laughs during the AFC practice on Ohana Day at the 2012 Pro Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE“I can’t even put that into words,” said Beasley via Syracuse.com. “What Dwight does, he just prepares. You just get to see it for yourself. He prepares so well week in and week out. I just try to take everything I can from him.”"
Currently, the NFL’s 18th all-time career sack leader with 122.5 sacks (and just a half a sack behind former teammate Robert Mathis), Freeney has little else to actually accomplish on the football field.
Already as a Super Bowl XLI Champion, 3x First-Team All-Pro, 1x 2nd-Team All-Pro, AFC Defensive Player of the Year, 7x Pro Bowler, NFL Sacks Leader, and member of the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team, Freeney could potentially add one more Super Bowl ring to his Hall of Fame worthy resume–while then calling it quits.
It’s something that has already crossed the veteran pass rusher’s mind, as Sunday could very well be his last game in the NFL after 209 career games:
"Jan 22, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks to defensive end Dwight Freeney (93) during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports“Physically, can I still do it? Can I move? Can I run as fast? Can I still spin?” said Freeney via the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer. “Am I still having fun playing this game? Am I still enjoying this? Is this too much of a job, or do I love to show up?”"
Colts fans would likely give their extra pizza, buffalo wings, or Doritos that they may be eating on Super Bowl Sunday to see that patented Freeney ‘spin move’ just one more time, leading to a Tom Brady takedown in the process–who has his own mutual admiration:
"“He’s one of the best pass rushers I have ever played against,” said Tom Brady on Freeney earlier this week via Syracuse.com. “He’s one of the best defensive players I’ve ever played against.”"
Before he has to ask himself whether he wants to continue his playing career, Freeney must first answer the question whether he can help the Falcons beat the always challenging Belichick & Brady combination.
Like Manning just before him, he’ll ultimately have to if he wants to hoist that elusive Lombardi trophy one more time and ride off on his white horse into the sunset.