Colts Defensive End Dwight Freeney a Pro Bowl Selection for the Sixth Time in 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – To Dwight Freeney, the honor always has been very, very special.
And he supposes that always will be the case.
Freeney, the Colts' nine-year veteran defensive end, can count more quickly the years he wasn't named to the Pro Bowl in his career than times he has been honored. There was his rookie season, and a couple of seasons in the middle of the decade.
Other than that, Freeney – widely considered one of the NFL's elite pass-rushing defensive ends – has been named to the game every season, making it three consecutive seasons early in his career and again being named to the game each of the past three seasons.
Each time is memorable, Freeney said.
And each time means as much as the first.
"It never gets old – I don't see how it could," Freeney said recently near the end of the 2010 season, a season in which the Colts won a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons and a season on which Colts.com will continue looking back in the coming weeks.
So, while Freeney – one of five Colts players named to the 2010 AFC Pro Bowl roster – was unable to participate in this year's game, that doesn't mean he doesn't value the honor.
Far from it.
"It's not about playing the game, per se," Freeney said. "It's about the prestige of the game, and the history behind it – who's been there in the past, and how many times you've been.
"That type of thing is special."
Freeney, a first-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, is reaching elite company in the latter category, particularly with his latest selection.
With his sixth selection, he ranks only behind quarterback Peyton Manning (11) and wide receiver Marvin Harrison (eight) for the most times selected to the game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. Offensive tackle Chris Hinton also was selected to the game six times (1983, 1985-89).
In Colts history, only Manning, Harrison, offensive tackle Jim Parker (eight), quarterback John Unitas (10), running back Lenny Moore (seven) and defensive end Gino Marchetti (11) have been named to more Pro Bowls.
Unitas, Moore, Parker and Marchetti are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Manning is active and Harrison is not yet eligible having last played in 2008.
While Freeney in 2003 became the first Colts defensive player named to the game since 1987, that has changed in recent seasons. Freeney was the only Colts defensive lineman named when he went in 2003, 2004 and 2005, but in the last three seasons, he and Robert Mathis each have been named to the game.
Freeney and Mathis in the last half-decade have emerged as one of the NFL's top pass-rushing tandems, and Freeney said being honored with his linemate has made it special in recent seasons.
"We've fought the battles and wars," Freeney said. "There's nothing like it when you go with a guy who's like a brother."
Freeney and Mathis, who this season became the first defensive end tandem named to the Pro Bowl together three consecutive seasons, have combined for 66 sacks – 21 this past season – and 21 forced fumbles over the past three seasons. Since 2004, the first year Mathis played an extensive role, they have combined for 140.5 sacks and 61 forced fumbles.
Since the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl began in 1970, the only other defensive end tandems from the same team selected to more than one Pro Bowl together were Clyde Simmons and Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles (1991 and 1992 seasons).
"Being around them a number of years now, it's something you certainly grow to expect, that you're accustomed to, those two guys being able to be a real force and a real factor in the ballgame," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "They have the ability to rush the passer, and they do it in a variety of ways. They can bull-rush you, they can speed-rush you and they can rush you inside or outside. It makes it difficult.
"Oftentimes, teams will look at one rusher and turn the entire line toward that particular rusher, but when you have two that makes things a bit more difficult."
Freeney said this season while he values the Pro Bowl, he has learned with experience to not completely judge personal success or failure on whether he is named to the game. He said he had a good enough year as a rookie in 2002 to be named to the game, but was not.
"I had 13 sacks and was second in the NFL," Freeney said. "I didn't make the Pro Bowl, but I understood it. I was a rookie and they didn't know who I was. It was fine."
He also said he has had seasons in which he believed he played at a high level, but did not get enough sacks to draw the votes necessary to be named to the Pro Bowl roster. He said he has such a year in 2006, when the Colts won the Super Bowl and he finished with three and a half sacks.
"It was one of my best years from a percentage standpoint rushing the passer," Freeney said. "People never threw on us that year. We had far less passes thrown against us than the next team."
In that situation, Freeney said, "You're not going to see that much production. It was three-step drops and double-teams. The opunities I had – they weren't many, but I took advantage of them."
Freeney made his first Pro Bowl in his second season, a year after not making it after a double-digit sack season as a rookie.
And although it came seven years ago, Freeney said the honor was – and is – special enough that it wasn't a moment easily forgotten.
"I remember the feeling – I was excited," Freeney said. "It was my second year. I couldn't wait to go and see what it was all about. Being around that type of environment, and all of those types of guys, it made me feel special. It's really great. You have all of the best players throughout the league. You get to sit there and talk to them a little bit, and get to know them a little bit. If you didn't do that, you'd probably never seem them.
"After that, the following season, you know that's the guy you talked to and got to know at the Pro Bowl. It's definitely a special thing."