INDIANAPOLIS – Last Sunday on the playing field of M&T Bank Stadium, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney recorded the 100th career sack of his 146-game playing career.
Freeney long has been one of the most disruptive presences in the NFL, and his place is secure in franchise history as well. The Colts' all-time sack leader now stands as one of 27 NFL players to produce 100 career sacks, and he became the club's leader in sacks in 2005.
It was a great moment for Freeney, one he had anticipated for a long time.
"It means a lot," said Freeney of his moment last weekend. "I thought about it a couple of days ago, thinking, 'Man, 101 (sacks), that's a lot.' I remember when I was a rookie thinking about those guys – (Michael) Strahan, those guys who had all those sacks, Lawrence Taylor (had) 130. Now, I'm kind of one of those guys. … It's a testament to the team and how we play together. It's definitely a blessing."
Freeney has started 127 of his 146 career outings since being the club's first-round pick in 2002. He has sacks in 66 starts and in 75 different games for his career. Last Sunday marked the 25th multiple-sack game of his career. Freeney (101.5) ranks third among active players in sacks, trailing Miami's Jason Taylor (138.5) and Atlanta's John Abraham (107.5), while Minnesota's Jared Allen has 100.5.
Freeney has sacked 49 different opposing quarterbacks, and he has sacks against 26 of 31 teams. His rookie season was also the first for Realignment, and he has played each divisional foe 17 times. Houston (15.5), Tennessee (13.0) and Jacksonville (9.0) stand as the opponents against which he has his most takedowns.
Freeney is a Connecticut native who reared him football-wise as a "fanatic" of New York Giants Hall-of-Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Taylor had 132.5 sacks during his illustrious career, and Freeney acknowledged what it means to join a list on which Taylor is a member, among others.
"To even be mentioned in any breath with those guys, the Neil Smiths, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas (is special)," said Freeney. "Some of those guys are friends of mine. Now, I can kind of say a little something (to them). I can't say much still, but I can have a talk with them about being one of those triple-digit guys."
Freeney has rampaged like Taylor and others on the list with 100 sacks throughout his career. He has produced seven of the 17 double-digit sack seasons in club history. Much the same way Freeney studied Taylor for nuances, he observed the history of other players who amassed significant totals in football and in other sports. In estimating his accomplishment, he believes he has found an equivalent in baseball – players with 500 career home runs. There are 25 players who reached that plateau, though Freeney says it is not an exact comparison.
"It (100 sacks) means a lot to me, because it's someplace where a lot of guys haven't been, and it's a pretty number," said Freeney. "It's a three-digit (number) and 100 (of) anything is good, almost, other than 100 strikeouts or 100 missed tackles. (For) 500 home runs for baseball you've got 20-something guys that are on that list. That is kind of comparable with the sacks."
The significance of the moment last Sunday was not lost on Head Coach Jim Caldwell. Caldwell's Colts career has the same span as that of Freeney, and he has witnessed first-hand Freeney's destructive nature and the immense impact he has on opponents.
"Dwight is a guy who works extremely hard," said Caldwell. "He's been blessed with speed and power and tenacity. He's a tough guy to handle. Obviously, it's evident by the number of sacks he's had. It's very select company that he's entered into. It's certainly well-deserved because he works at it. It's important to him, and he has a lot more to come."
Freeney is aware of the 11-man nature of an NFL defense. In a sport that relies perhaps more on teamwork than any, he was quick earlier this year to credit others for helping him approach the milestone.
"(It) means a lot to the team and people who've been here through that, too," said Freeney. "A sack is just not an individual thing. It's great coverage, the other linemen doing what they need to be doing. Sometimes it is just you running over a guy. It's a little bit of both.
On-field accomplishments, team-wise and individually, strike deep emotional chords with fans. Freeney has enjoyed and appreciated his followers throughout his 10 seasons as a Colt. He developed a post-sack ritual a few seasons ago to salute fans and those who mean a great deal to him.
"It is two pounds (on his heart) and a salute," said Freeney. "It's for fans, my family, it's the heart and a salute. The salute is for everybody – fans, friends, family. (I've been doing it) for about three or four years. It's just thinking about going out there and playing. It's great for me, but it's also for the fans, family. It all kind of mixes in together – home games, the crowd noise. I'm making plays and it gives me energy. The family holds me up. My friends hold me up when I'm down. It's kind of a salute to them."
Freeney will continue to march on. So does Father Time. Freeney is aware some younger players may be tailoring their games after how they saw him play. Once smitten with Taylor, he knows there will be times when he is on the receiving end of a younger player's compliments.
"That shows you how old I am, I guess," said Freeney. "Guys coming out saying, 'I used to love watching you back in the day.' I'm thinking I'm still young. It's definitely been a blessing to be playing as long as I have. I'm just happy to be here. Hopefully, it can continue for a lot of more years."
PLAYERS WITH 100 CAREER SACKS (*-Active)
200.0 Bruce Smith
198.0 Reggie White
160.0 Kevin Greene
150.5 Chris Doleman
141.5 Michael Strahan
138.5* Jason Taylor
137.5 John Randle
137.5 Richard Dent
132.5 Lawrence Taylor
132.5 Leslie O'Neal
128.0 Rickey Jackson
126.5 Derrick Thomas
122.0 Simeon Rice
121.5 Clyde Simmons
113.0 Sean Jones
109.5 Greg Townsend
107.5 Pat Swilling
107.5* John Abraham
106.0 Trace Armstrong
104.5 Kevin Carter
104.5 Neil Smith
102.5 Jim Jeffcoat
101.5* Dwight Freeney
100.5 Charles Haley
100.5 William Fuller
100.5* Jared Allen
100.0 Andre Tippett
FREENEY SACKS BY OPPONENT
4.0 Baltimore, Dallas, Miami
3.0 Carolina, Minnesota, New England, NY Jets
2.5 Atlanta, Denver
2.0 Buffalo, Chicago, NY Giants, San Diego, San Francisco
1.5 Kansas City
1.0 Oakland, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle
0.5 Tampa Bay
0.0 Arizona, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, Washington
FREENEY SACKS BY QUARTERBACK (49 TOTAL)
7.0 David Carr, Steve McNair
4.5 Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger
4.0 Carson Palmer, David Garrard
3.0 Trent Dilfer, Sage Rosenfels, Byron Leftwich, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Billy Volek
2.0 16 players
1.5 Two players
1.0 16 players
0.5 Three players