Houston – Jim Caldwell has long had Dwight Freeney on the brain. The Detroit Lions coach has loosely compared a number of players to the veteran edge rusher over the years, from Oakland’s Khalil Mack to Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald.
It’s because Caldwell and Freeney go way back, well before they even spent 10 years together with the Indianapolis Colts.
“Jim sat on my couch in high school,” Freeney said. “He was trying to recruit me out of high school to go to Wake Forest and told me I could play both ways. I could play offense and defense. I gave him a hard time when I was with the Colts. I said, ‘I’m still waiting to play both ways.’”
That obviously never happened, and at 36 years old, Freeney has no interest in doing it now, but he managed to carve out a fine career as one of the best pass rushers of his generation.
Freeney is making his third trip to the Super Bowl, the elder statesman on a young Atlanta Falcons defense. With three sacks this season, he brought his 15-year total to 122.5, a half-sack behind longtime teammate Robert Mathis, who recently called it a career.
Freeney was lured to Atlanta by coach Dan Quinn and his defensive background and the gamble paid off with the Super Bowl trip, the defensive end’s first in seven years, when he was playing for Caldwell.
“It’s one of those things that just doesn’t happen often,” Freeney said. “You think you’re going to go all the time once you go the first time. In 2006, I was like, ‘Finally, we beat the Patriots back then we’re going to make it every single year,’ and it never happened. So now, I guess my elder years are more mature years now. I try to take everything in.”
As for his former coach, Freeney isn’t surprised by the success Caldwell has had in Detroit, compiling a 27-21 record with two playoff berths in three seasons with the franchise.
“Jim is a great guy,” Freeney said. “He’s calm, cool and collected. He knows how to motivate a team. He understands the team very well and it’s no surprise to me how he turned that Detroit franchise around. It’s only a matter of time with Jim.”