INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney has been selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team seven times during his illustrious 10-year career.
He has played in four of his previous six nominations, missing the 2009 game because Indianapolis was in Super Bowl XLIV and missing last year because of a medical reason.
When this year's Pro Bowl kicks off at Aloha Stadium on January 29, Freeney intends on being present and lining up for the first snap as an elected starter in the game.
Has the process gotten old for the grizzled veteran?
"It never does," said Freeney. "It's a tremendous honor to be picked by your peers, by the fans. This is not something that is just for you either. It's for the city, for your teammates. You didn't get there by yourself."
Freeney is conditioned to the election process in every regard. He never has experienced a non-winning season during his career, but this year finds him fighting along with his teammates in a season that has not been pleasant. Sometimes fates for selection can be tied to a team's performance, and the nomination, his second as a starter, was a cause for mild surprise.
"I'm surprised. I know I go out there and I perform, and I know what I can do," said Freeney. "Regardless, I don't know who notices and who doesn't. I don't really pay much attention. Obviously, I know sometimes bad years (for a team), it goes bad all the way around, top to bottom. I'm very blessed to be in the situation I'm in and have the type of teammates I have and the coaching staff. (They) give me the ability to do what I do out there on a game-to-game basis."
Freeney has started 14 of 15 games in 2011, missing the start against Houston last week only because of a rotation pattern on the line. He is one of a handful of Colts who have appeared in every contest. By playing this Sunday at Jacksonville, he will produce his fifth career season with 16 games played.
In 2011, Freeney has 18 tackles, 12 solo, 7.5 sacks (for 80.5 yards in losses) and two forced fumbles. He ranks second on the team to end Robert Mathis (8.5) in sacks. With 25 career multiple-sack games, he would like to get 2.5 on Sunday to earn his eighth career double-digit sack season.
"It would be nice," said Freeney. "I've never been a 'number' guy, but double digits are always great. It's about how many opportunities you've had. When you look back on the seasons, you like to see double digits. There's something nice about that."
One nice honor Freeney earned this year was the select few on the list with 100 or more career sacks. Freeney (101.5) had two sacks at Baltimore on December 11, pushing him past the 100-sack total for his career. He is one of 27 players to reach the milestone. Forty-nine different opposing quarterbacks have felt the wrath of Freeney, as have 26 of the NFL's 31 other teams.
With his seventh Pro Bowl nomination earned, the fourth one consecutively, Sunday is no time for let up for Freeney. He and his teammates are on a two-game winning streak that has been built on AFC South foes. Indianapolis has defeated Tennessee and Houston consecutively, and the only thing in Freeney's sights is the Jaguars on Sunday.
"It (his motivation) doesn't change. I promised you it doesn't change," said Freeney. "That's your resume. You have a lot of pride. I have a lot of pride. I don't care if it's the last game, or if it's a pickup game on a parking lot, I'm playing hard. That's just what it is. It's gotten me this far. Regardless if it's the end of the game, the last snap, you have to continue to go out there and give it your all. You owe it to the game. You owe it to everyone."
That integrity and pride is why Freeney has averaged 10 sacks per season for his career. It is a reason he has participated in 102 career wins with Indianapolis, one of only 13 players in Colts history to top 100 career wins. It is a reason he is a feared presence for all opponents. It is why he is loved by Colts fans and respected by his peers and coaches.
"Dwight has been a prolific performer since his arrival here with the Colts," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell. "He has the tenacity, competitiveness, physical aspects and intellect required to be voted by his peers as a member of this prestigious fraternity. Dwight's selection to the Pro Bowl is well deserved."
Freeney has started 128 of his 148 career outings, and he has sacks in 66 starts and in 75 different games for his career. His seven career Pro Bowl nominations tie him with running back Lenny Moore for the sixth-most in Colts history. Defensive end Gino Marchetti and quarterback Peyton Manning rank first with 11 nominations. Quarterback John Unitas had 10 nominations, followed by offensive guard/tackle Jim Parker and wide receiver Marvin Harrison with eight. Marchetti, Moore, Unitas and Parker are Pro Football Hall-of-Famers. Freeney and his two Colts contemporaries have built or are building their cases.
The case for Freeney continues on Sunday, then, hopefully, in Honolulu in January. If healthy, he will serve – gladly, and his appreciation for the honor and for those who helped him achieve it never diminishes.
"No matter how many times you get picked, it is always special and something that I will always cherish," said Freeney. "This is something that is not just a personal goal, but an achievement for this team. You do not get there by yourself and it is a credit to my teammates and coaches. I want to thank all of the fans and fellow players who selected me and all of my coaches and teammates who have made this possible."