Baltimore City is known for producing basketball players like street-ball greats such as Skip Wise, the Graham Brothers and so forth to the city’s greatest champion, Sam Cassell (assistant head coach of the Washington Wizards), to the biggest star the city ever had in the Denver Nuggets’ forward, Carmelo Anthony. When it comes to the world of football for Baltimore, there aren’t many big names. Although there have been many who made it to the NFL, but the Cassell and Anthony of football is none other than former NFL wide receiver, Antonio Freeman, who is about to become a hall of fame player.
Freeman’s name is the first name that comes to mind in terms of NFL players from the area and he’s like an ambassador for the other NFL’ers from Baltimore like former safety Keion Carpenter and former linebacker Tommy Polley (to name a few) who view Freeman as a big brother. “When I first got in the league, Freeman told me he committed enough mistakes for me, so I had no excuses,” said Carpenter. “He told me under his wing and he has been like a big brother to me and he still is and I’m grateful for it.”
Freeman was a star on all levels of football and very well could have been a basketball great as well. Freeman played his high school sports at Polytechnic Institute, where he dominated, played at Virginia Tech and was a third round selection by the Green Bay Packers (90th overall) in the 1995 NFL draft where his stardom continued.
Freedom played with future first-ballot hall of fame quarterback, Brett Favre, for most of his career and it was an honor for both of them to play with each other as they grew together as stars in the NFL. Freeman won a Super Bowl in 1997 with the Packers and set a record, at the time, for the longest touchdown pass in the event’s history (81 yards). Freeman had several acrobatic catches that made Favre look good and he got destroyed a couple of times by doing so. But to the testament of Freeman’s toughness, he rarely missed a game and in 1998, his best year of his career, he had 84 catches for a league leading 1,424 yards earning a Pro Bowl and an All-Pro selection. Freeman holds the greatest play ever on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings in 2000 when in overtime, Favre threw a deep pass, in bad conditions, to Freeman when the ball bounced off his back while he was falling, but still had the present of mind and concentration to follow the ball when the defender gave up on the play thinking the ball was dead. Freedom quickly tapped the ball to himself, caught it, got up and danced into the end zone. That play earned Freeman to win an ESPY award for that Monday Night Football play.
Freeman signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002 in which he played a limited role (still productive) and returned to the Packers the following year before retiring in 2004 after being in the Miami Dolphins training camp ending his 9 year career. Freeman walked away from the NFL on his own terms and could have played longer, but accepting a lesser role was difficult for him like it is for any talented player. Freeman finished with 7,251 receiving yards, averaged 15 yards per catch with 61 touchdowns and played in two Super Bowls.
Throughout Freeman’s career he wasn’t a ‘me, me, guy,’ just a team player and after 5 years of retirement from the NFL, he joined another team, inner city youth, especially in Baltimore. “We (him and his NFL buddies from the area) want to teach them to be great young men as well as great athletes,” said Freeman when he at Carpenter’s football camp (C4C, Commitment 4 Change) this summer. “Everyone knows Baltimore produces a great athlete, but a lot of times we don’t produce great people. So we are tying to get these kids to be well rounded athletes, students, listeners, and accept coaching from their coaches and parents.” When Freeman was at the camp, he showed the kids his Super Bowl ring and his ESPY Award to the campers, not to brag, but to prove to the guys that they can achieve the same success and greater despite of the violence, gang and drug activity that surrounds them. Freeman chose football and used it as a tool for success in which he explained the ‘future’ of our communities. “If they are going to use football, let football take them where they need to be using football as a tool…don’t let football use you,” said Freeman.
Freeman is involved in several ventures that are dear to his heart, none more than feeding families. “I feed hungry families…on April 11th, I went to Little Ark Missionary Baptist on North Avenue, the same street I grew up on and I fed 400 needy families giving them boxes of food and toiletries,” said Freeman. “I like to feed the homeless and needy people.”
On July 18th, Freeman will be immortalized in the Packers’ hall of fame becoming the first athlete from Baltimore to be a hall of famer from the professional level, but not before he feed some more families. “I will feed 800 families, as a part of my induction,” said Freeman. “I wanted to give back as the Green Bay Packers because they have giving me so much in my life. It will be a great opportunity for me to go into one of the best hall of fame there are and it’s a great feeling going into Green Bay Packers hall of fame.”
Freeman may not be totally away from the game, yet. Freeman had received several offers from networks to be a NFL analyst. Freeman have been a guest analyst with ESPN on shows such as, ESPN First Take, NFL Live during the NFL season and appeared on ESPN College Game Day to support Virginia Tech, his alma mater. Freeman have helped developed an interesting site for his peers called,’ onlyplayers.com,’ which is a private, social internet site for professional athletes and entertainers and if an athlete played only one down, one second or one inning in any professional sport, they qualify. It’s important for professional athletes to keep in contact with no media involvement in some cases and that’s what ‘only players’ is for to keep the lines of communication open between them to help support each other affairs, especially if a celebrity is in the area. The best thing about the privacy of the site is that each celebrity will have a personal brand to avoid imposers.
Freeman have taken his competitive nature from football to his post NFL career endeavors and instead of looking at his ‘ex’ career (which he used as a tool) he can focus on his never ending career, a leader in the community and a big brother to many.