INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The legion of legendary Indianapolis Colts – the Ring of Honor guys – finally includes a defender.
Welcome to the elite group, Dwight Freeney.
It was enough to ignite a fire under Jim Irsay.
“I love defensive football,’’ Irsay said Thursday night as he announced Freeney’s inclusion in the Ring of Honor during a Town Hall meeting at the team’s northwestside complex. “I love the guys who make mayhem. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just the John Wayne in me.
“I like bar-clearers-out, those guys that clear out a bar, a whole bar.’’
Freeney was the Colts’ 2002 first-round draft pick, the 11th selection overall. He was an undersized defensive end out of Syracuse – 6-1, 268 pounds – who was a perfect fit in Tony Dungy’s speed-oriented 4-3 defense.
And he was an absolute terror.
“So special. So special,’’ Irsay said, his voice intensifying. “Tasmanian devil on wheels. Flick on your camera to watch film and there’s just mayhem. It’s right on that side where he is.
“Tremendous, tremendous young man. What a guy. He just has that smile on his face and that easy-going nature. But buddy, don’t let him get you alone in the alley.’’
Freeney’s career stretched 16 seasons and involved stops with six teams, but he built his Hall of Fame-worth career during 11 seasons with the Colts. He piled up 107.5 sacks in Indy – second to Robert Mathis’ 123 – and added 113 tackles for loss and 43 forced fumbles.
Freeney’s 125.5 career sacks rank 18th in NFL history, one notch ahead of Mathis. He officially retired in 2018 as a member of the Colts and will become the 16th addition to the Ring of Honor at a yet-to-be determined game at Lucas Oil Stadium during the season.
Jeff Saturday, the long-time Colts’ center, emceed Thursday’s event and was effusive in his praise for Freeney. They were teammates from 2002-11.
Saturday, a Ring of Honor inductee in 2015, recalled when Freeney first walked into the Colts’ locker room.
“As a football player when you hear a first-round defensive end walk in, Freeney doesn’t really match the picture, right?’’ Saturday said. “As he put his hand in the dirt the very first time . . . his get-off . . . it terrified me. ‘I do not want to slide and protect in that direction.’
“He hit that spin move and the next thing you know his face is in your face and that hurts a lot.’’
It’s noteworthy that Freeney represents the first defensive player added to the Ring of Honor. Mathis soon will follow him.
The Ring of Honor: Reggie Wayne (2018), Peyton Manning (2017), Bill Polian (2016), Saturday (2015), Eric Dickerson (2013), Marshall Faulk (2013), Edgerrin James (2012), Marvin Harrison (2011), Tony Dungy (2010), Colts Nation (2007), Jim Harbaugh (2005), Chris Hinton (2001), Ted Marchibroda (2000), Bill Brooks (1998) and Robert Irsay (1998).
“I love that man,’’ Irsay said of Freeney. “It’s such a privilege to have another great Colt get up there in the rafters where he belongs.’’