Dwight Freeney was a big-time star for 11 seasons (2002-12) in Indianapolis, so when he went back in October, in part for the unveiling of Peyton Manning’s statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, he saw a lot of friends and former teammates. He noticed something about his old Colts.
“They’re all retired,” he said Wednesday, “and I’m the only one still playing.”
Actually, he wasn’t playing at the time. At 37, his career looked over after 15 seasons. Then a 425 area code appeared on his phone.
Now he’s the only one playing. This time, for the Seahawks Sunday. Wednesday was his introductory presser at the VMAC, explaining that golf in Newport Beach, CA., and working out in strange gyms while waiting for the phone to ring was a temporary lifestyle that was getting boring fast.
“I was literally one week away (from retiring),” he said. “I can’t go into that same gym, do that same work. Then (the Seahawks) called me, and it pushed me to work out another week.”
Once Cliff Avril went down with a neck injury, the Seahawks were officially desperate for pass-rushing help. Even though Freeney hadn’t played ball since the Super Bowl with Atlanta, and was as old as defensive coordinator Kris Richard, general manager John Schneider needed a plug-and-play guy.
One of his new teammates, CB Richard Sherman, explained the situation even better than Freeney, when Sherman was asked whether he could see himself playing at 38.
“Yes, yes I could,” he said. “They’d probably move me to safety at some point, but I can tackle, and I know ball, so I’ll find a way to last. I think at this point in the game, at this point in football, there’s a lot less teaching of ball, a lot less fundamentals. I think that’s why you see some guys that have incredible fundamentals last as long as you want to last, because these young kids don’t have fundamentals a lot of times.
“They have talent, and talent is awesome — until it runs out, until your speed is not what it used to be, and your jumping isn’t what it used to be. Then all you have is your mind. If your mind was never your number one priority, if it was never your best tool, then it’s difficult to turn it on at the end.”
That’s a fair estimation of the Seahawks thinking in the hire of Freeney. In a wide-open NFC, the Seahawks have no time to waste seeking assignment-correctness and hand placement from a kid. For 15 to 20 snaps a game, Freeney, No. 3 among active players with 122.5 sacks, can use his head better than a youngster can use his legs.
According to Freeney, he was led to believe that the Falcons wanted to bring back him at some point. But as training camp turned to preseason and then the regular season, the Falcons dithered.
” I got caught up in that mix a little, and it was a little frustrating,” he said. “I like getting in early and getting to know guys. It took six-seven weeks before I said, ‘Well I gotta go somewhere else.'”
As soon as word was out about the Seahawks’ interest, he received a text from DE Raheem Brock, a Colts teammate for eight years who spent his final two NFL seasons as a starter in coach Pete Carroll’s first two seasons in Seattle.
“He hit me up immediately,” Freeney said. “He told me, ‘You’re going to love it.’ He used to brag about it. When I was in Indianapolis, he’d say, ‘You really need to come to Seattle.’ I’d say, ‘Seattle? It’s so different, so far away from what we know.’
“I’m an East Coast guy, from Connecticut, and this is the furthest west as you can go. So I’d say, ‘What are you talking about?’ So now I’m here. I already feel how special a place this is.”
The mid-season emergency pickup of an aging vet is an NFL staple, and the bag of results is mixed. But Carroll was predictably enthusiastic.
“This is an extraordinarily savvy guy,” he said. “He is so smart, so well-schooled and has tremendous discipline about his part of the game, rushing the passer. It’s going to help guys just being around him. He is very aggressive. He was very active last year, made a lot of things happen.
“He was really anxious to get back to playing, so it was a chance and it worked out. We are thrilled to have him.”
As Sherman suggested, Freeney did not wait until the end to rely on his mind.