Where Are They Now: Steve Freeman
Freeman joined the Bills after being waived
by the Patriots
March 12, 2003
Freeman played in 144 straight games
A decision made by the Patriots after only two preseason
games in 1975 affected the Bills for the next 12 years, when Steve Freeman,
a rookie safety from Mississippi State, wasnt in New Englands
plans and was waived.
"I was, in essence, told Im not good enough to
play for New England and Buffalo picked me up off the waiver wire. Most
of the time to make it if youre coming off the waiver wire or if
youre a low-round draft choice, youve got to be at the right
place at the right time. I got lucky," said Freeman. "I got
to Buffalo when they were needing some safeties. Tony Greene was injured
and I got the opportunity to get on the field and play. In New England,
I didnt ever get on the field. Ninety percent of the kids like myself,
coming through the system, need to get on the field and play. Show them
what youve got."
Freeman showed what he had. Not only as a reserve safety
for his first three seasons when he collected three interceptions, including
one that he returned 30 yards for a touchdown against Miami, but on special
teams as well.
"When youre coming in as a rookie, youve
got to play all the special teams to make the club. Back then, we didnt
have much nickel coverage. The nickel coverage didnt really come
in until the late 70s. So it was a question of a 42-man roster,
how do you make it? You make it as a backup. If not a backup, come in
there and start. But if youre not going to start, you play special
teams. You play them all.
"I probably wasnt totally prepared to start at
first. Theres so much to learn and the only way youre going
to learn is generally by making a mistake so you dont make it again.
So I didnt feel like I was yearning to be a starter until I had
learned what I think I needed to learn at my position. Fortunately, I
was given the time to do that. The average deal is not but about three
years in the league. And you cant learn anything that you need to
learn in those years, youve got to have the experience. I had the
opportunity to gain that experience before I became a starter."
He also had the opportunity to experience being one of the
leaders of the NFLs top-rated defense in 1980. Buffalo allowed only
256 yards per game and won their division. Freeman had a career-high seven
interceptions and was the top tackler among defensive backs. Why was his
sixth season one of his most successful?
"Great coaches, great players, we had a great scheme
that year. Tom Catlin was our coordinator and Jim Wagstaff was our secondary
coach. He was one of those guys that when you played for him, you dont
want to let him down. Youre going to go out there and play your
best," Freeman said. "The schemes that we ran put us in situations
to make interceptions. It was just a situation of learning the system,
learning where to be, learning what everybody else on defense was doing,
and having confidence in your abilities to make plays."
From 1975 until late in the 84 campaign, Freeman was
in on a lot of plays. And in fact, did not miss a game. A 144-game streak.
However, during a November game against New England, he suffered a ruptured
thigh muscle. The Bills lost that afternoon to go 0-11, but it never crossed
Freemans mind to let the injury heal properly and finish the disappointing
season on the sideline.
"We had Dallas the next week and I was going to play
if they had to cut my leg off and put a peg up there. We did all kinds
of treatments on it. I got through the Dallas week and got it hit again
right at the end of the ballgame. And then the next week, we played Washington
and I went out and played one play. I got split out with (wide receiver)
Art Monk. They saw me warming up and knew I couldnt run. They tried
an out-and-up on me and I tackled him and took the pass interference.
Came out of the ballgame and the next week, I just couldnt go. We
were playing the Colts and there was no way I could run. I couldnt
do anything, so I took a game off."
That was the only game Freeman ever took off during his
12-year career with the Bills. When he left Buffalo via a trade to the
Vikings in 87, he held the team record for most games with 178.
Hes now sixth on the clubs all-time list.
Freeman has a new occupation: a back
judge in the NFL.
Now living in Mississippi, Freeman and his wife, Bo, have
two sons, Brad, 27; and Ty, 21. A daughter, Carlee, 22. And a grandchild.
A custom home builder, Freeman also trains horses and holds riding camps
during the summer.
Freeman has one other occupation. Now instead of being on
the football field wearing No. 22, shoulder pads and a helmet; hes
on the field wearing No. 133, stripes and a whistle. Freeman is a back
judge in the National Football League.
"I enjoy officiating because its the next thing
to playing. Where else can you leave an NFL field at age 30-whatever and
have an opportunity to get back on the field and participate in the ballgame.
You cant! You can come back and coach, but you have to stand on
the sideline. You cant run up and down the field and actually be
a participant in the ballgame unless you become an official," said
Freeman, who honed his officiating skills in college football (the SEC)
and NFL Europe. "I enjoy officiating because I played the game so
long and you have a lot of knowledge that you just dont just need
to throw in a wastebasket. You can take the experiences that you had on
that field and turn them into becoming a good official. I think not necessarily
playing makes you a good official, you have to be knowledgeable in the
rules and everything. But definitely, I felt like it helps you be a better
official to have played, to have seen the sets, to know the pass routes.
I enjoy every Sunday afternoon being back out in the middle of the field,
right in the middle of the action."
Are They Now Archive