Former Packer helps Go Pink cause

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
— Antonio Freeman is the cool guy now.

Freeman, a former Green Bay Packer all-pro wide receiver, returned to Janesville to promote the state-wide Go Pink Initiative, which raises money to benefit breast cancer research and survivors, for the annual Craig vs. Parker girls soccer Go Pink Night on Tuesday at Craig High.

“When I have time to come back to the state of Wisconsin, I try to come back by way of the Go Pink breast cancer awareness fund raising,” Freeman said. “It’s good to come back and have a warm feeling, and be part of a worthy cause that actually gives away a check to surviving breast cancer patients.’’

Freeman is a survivor of sorts. He made a success of his life, which isn’t true of some of his childhood friends.

“I was the kid that at 6:30, when the sun started to go down, I had to come in,” Freeman said. “If I wasn’t on my way home, my parents were on their way to get me, but all the other kids got to stay out. Back then, they were the cool kids, they got to stay out past dark and do things.”

Freeman now knows the childhood rules worked to his advantage.

“I realized the sacrifices my parents forced me to do growing up, and now I’m the cool guy,” Freeman said. “I went to college for free and an opportunity to play college football. I was fortunate enough to get drafted into the pros.

“By just leaving the neighborhood, I became the cool guy,” Freeman added. “When all those guys were the cool guys growing up because they got to stay out late.’’

Freeman, who will be 40 on May 27, was a Packers’ third-round 1995 draft pick out of Virginia Tech. The Baltimore native played eight of his nine years in the NFL for the Packers and one season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

A favorite target for the Brett Favre-led Packers, Freeman earned a 1997 Super Bowl XXXI championship ring, catching an 81-yard touchdown pass in a 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots.

Freeman’s biggest claim to fame was a circus catch on Nov. 6, 2000, to defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 26-20, on Monday Night Football.

“That’s the most frequently asked question I get,” Freeman said of the football he caught after it bounced off his body as he was flat on the ground. “They act like it’s the only catch I made, but it’s good to be remembered for something.’’

Freeman concentrates catching attention for Go Pink and his own B’MoreFree Charity that supports school children in Baltimore.

While fundraising for breast cancer research and helping school children in his hometown play a big role in Freeman’s life after football, as a former NFL player, the focus on head injuries and the lingering effects are important, too.

“We hit every day. It’s not just Sundays when they see you,” said Freeman, who said he suffered concussions playing football. “Every day that we are practicing, there is contact, there is head trauma, there is banging.’’

Freeman said former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who took his life recently, has been subjected to head trauma for many years.

“(Seau) didn’t start playing when he was drafted into the NFL,” Freeman said. “He had been banging heads a long time, since he was nine, 10 years old.’’

Freeman doesn’t know how football will affect him in later life.

“It takes a toll on your body,” Freeman said. “What kind of toll? We don’t know.”

Freeman thinks the NFL should take care of the players during and after their careers.

“The NFL and the powers that be should see to it, medically, that we are OK while we are playing the game, and our families and ourselves are taken care of medically after the game.’’

Freeman has concerns about his future.

“I have my moments,” Freeman said. “I walk into a room and forget why I walked into that room and walk back out. I don’t know where I’ll be at 50.”

For now, Freeman is in the pink and enjoying a cool time.

Last updated: 8:34 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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