Freeney has a chance to go out on top with Falcons
Dwight Freeney is coming up on that time of year when he has to answer some hard questions. How does his body feel? Can he still be effective at what he does?
Is the motivation to succeed as strong as ever?
Once he completes that little self-evaluation, he can decide whether it’s time to call it a career. If this is where it ends, what a way to go out.
Less than three weeks away from his 37th birthday, Freeney is back in the Super Bowl for the third time, essentially filling the role of player-coach for the Atlanta Falcons.
He’s one victory away from being able to fulfil the dream of every great athlete: retiring on top.
“I can appreciate the moment a lot more,” Freeney said. “I’m at a different place in my career than I was before, and that’s OK. You play long enough, you’re gonna have all the ranges of what happened in your career: you didn’t know much, you’re on top of your game, and now you’re like mentor guy.”
The defensive end hasn’t decided if this will be his final game. He’s already on borrowed time.
“One of my goals coming in was, ‘Hey, get 10 years in,”’ Freeney said, smiling about a milestone he surpassed five seasons ago. “After my 10th year, every year I said, ‘OK, that’s probably it for me.’ And I keep coming back, for whatever reason.”
The Falcons are sure glad he did.
While Freeney no longer puts up the double-digit sack totals that were the hallmark of his 11-year tenure with the Indianapolis Colts, he has played an invaluable role tutoring an extremely young Falcons defence that started four rookies and four second-year players in the NFC championship game.
His impact was most apparent on Vic Beasley Jr., who rebounded from a disappointing rookie year to lead the NFL with 15 1-2 sacks. Freeney not only taught the youngster some of the tricks of the pass-rushing trade, but how to be a professional athlete.
“I can’t even put that into words,” Beasley said. “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.”
A second Super Bowl title might be enough to ensure Freeney takes his place in the Hall of Fame someday. The Patriots believe he’s already earned his spot.
“He’s one of the best pass rushers I have ever played against,” New England quarterback Tom Brady said. “He’s one of the best defensive players I’ve ever played against.”
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Dwight Freeney runs in the end zone during the NFL team’s practice at Grayson High School in August 2016 in Loganville, Ga.