respects Peyton Manning and likes him as a person, but "he's a
quarterback," Freeney says, enunciating the word with the same disdain that
former president Bush reserved for liberal. "I mean, imagine going through
life like that--having everything so easy, being so soft, wearing a different
colored jersey in practice to symbolize you can't be touched. It pisses me off.
And Peyton's a quarterback's son--he's been that way since birth!" Were
Freeney to play for another team, he says, "I'd have a giant picture of
Peyton painted on the ceiling above my bed."
Lest Manning take
it personally, Freeney feels that way about all quarterbacks. "You have to
realize what it's like for defensive players," Freeney says. "We're all
out there trying to get a chunk of change from Nike or Reebok, and then you
find out that one of the best [defensive] players in the league, an All-Pro
every year, is making way less on his [shoe company] deal than some quarterback
who hasn't even taken his team to the playoffs. It's like, you get peanuts and
Kyle Boller is eating chocolate-covered almonds."
The son of
Jamaican-born parents, Freeney was a goalkeeper on his high school soccer team
in Bloomfield, Conn., until he switched sports before his sophomore season at
the urging of the football coach, who loved his size and speed. After earning
high school All-America honors, he went to Syracuse, where as a junior he had 4
1/2 sacks in a breathtaking game against fleet-footed Virginia Tech quarterback
Michael Vick and as a senior led the nation with 17 1/2. Timed at 4.38 seconds
in the 40 by scouts before the 2002 draft, the 6'1", 265-pound Freeney
figured he was a surefire first-rounder before he began hearing the noise from
draftniks about his size. "I was getting murdered," Freeney says.
"After listening to Mel Kiper, I didn't know I'd made a play in
Bill Polian and his newly hired coach, defensive guru Tony Dungy, however, had
a different opinion of Freeney and took him with the 11th pick. He quickly made
his new bosses look good, finishing third in the NFL with 13 sacks as a rookie
despite starting only eight games. Reversing years of "bigger is
better" coaching groupthink, the relatively small but explosive Freeney was
blowing past massive offensive tackles as if he were in a FasTrak toll
By now Freeney,
whose mother, Joy, was a Jamaican Olympic prospect in the 400-meter dash, has
proved that speed kills against bigger opponents; indeed, he's smoked more
fatties than Bob Marley. Freeney has a career average of .715 sacks per game
(56 1/2 sacks in 79). He's been told that one team prepared for him by having a
defensive back line up for the scout team at right defensive end--two steps
relying on speed alone, he'd be hard enough to contain; throw in his array of
killer moves, including a 360-degree spin, and he's an opposing coach's biggest
headache. And like his idol, Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Freeney
is adept at stripping the ball, whipping his arm like a windmill as he descends
upon the quarterback. Already he has forced 27 fumbles in his career, including
three against Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in a 34--16 Monday-night win on
"I compare him to Randy Moss in that even when he doesn't make a play, he
has an impact on games because of the way teams adjust to his presence."
�Because teams use backs and tight ends as extra blockers on Freeney, his
linemates are being single-blocked--fellow end Robert Mathis, not Freeney,
actually led the team in sacks, with 9 1/2--and the Colts' linebackers and
defensive backs have fewer receivers to cover. While Manning and All-Pro
wideout Marvin Harrison remain the team's marquee players, Freeney and his
fellow defenders are fast gaining respect.
certainly taken a lot of heat over the years, but right now they have a little
swagger to them," Manning says of his teammates on defense. "I like
that they're getting attention. It's about time."
You know what
Freeney would say to that. Yeah, whatever--quarterback.