Freeman won't let draft snub pass Receiver, a 3rd-round pick, fast proving speed is no prerequisite for success


Super Bowl Xxxii

January 22, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Freeman came into the NFL with something to prove.

He's proved it with back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl.

But the success the Baltimore native has enjoyed on the field hasn't wiped out the sting of draft day when nine receivers were picked before he was selected in the third round.

"It was extremely motivating," Freeman said. "I was upset. I felt like I was one of the top five receivers in the world. It didn't come out that way on draft day so that initially lit a fire under me. I knew I had to do everything in my power to prove everybody wrong," he said.

Even the Green Bay Packers, who did select him, wanted him mainly as a kick returner.

General manager Ron Wolf said, "If we knew he was as good as he was, we would have taken him a lot higher."

The negative on Freeman's resume was that he didn't have blazing speed. But he's fast enough with a football in his hand.

"Much was said about me not having a 4.3 40 time. I don't have a 4.3. I still don't. But if you put me on the field, I know how to run. I know how to make plays. I know how to make people miss. That was one of the biggest things that disturbed me, the fact they relied so heavily on true 40 speed. You take a guy like myself, a guy like Robert Brooks, we're not real fast track guys. But once you put the ball in our hands and you tell us you've got to make a few guys miss, we get it done. If we get a step on you, it's hard to bring us down from behind."

Teaming with Brooks, Freeman helps make the offense go. "I think we're one of the top three tandems. We make plays. We move the chains. We dictate the tempo of the game," he said.

Freeman, who'll have seven members of his family at the game, hopes to have another big game in the Super Bowl. He caught an 81-yard TD pass last year in the 35-21 win over New England.

Wolf said he can join the ranks of the top receivers in the league.

"He has to pass the test of time and keep his head on straight," Wolf said. "He's really good."

Coach Mike Holmgren said, "Antonio Freeman has really cranked it up to be our best player on offense."

Realizing that quarterback Brett Favre is the team's best player, he quickly added, "Or one of our best players."

Change of heart

Ray Crockett knows why the AFC doesn't get any respect.

The Denver Broncos cornerback broke in with the Detroit Lions and he didn't give the AFC any respect back then, either.

When the Lions played the Washington Redskins in the 1991 NFC title game, he assumed the winner would win the Super Bowl. That's what the Redskins did.

"I thought they [AFC] were weak. I'm just being honest. I thought the AFC was a finesse league. I was definitely biased because that was ingrained in my head. I was drafted by an NFC team and that's all you heard, that the NFC is the best. We're the most physical," he said.

Obviously, he now has a different view.

"Now that I've really begun to notice, there's some really good teams in the AFC," he said.

But the AFC has yet to prove it on the field because the NFC has won 13 straight Super Bowls.

Downright respectful

The Revenge Tour is over for the Broncos.

In getting to the Super Bowl, they won road games against Kansas City and Pittsburgh -- two teams the Broncos disliked.

"There's no love lost between those two organizations. I make no bones about that. I think they feel the same way about me," tight end Shannon Sharpe said.

He said the Chiefs tried to cheap-shot the Broncos and Pittsburgh didn't show them any respect when they beat Denver in the regular season.

"They [Pittsburgh] do a lot of talking. From Monday to Saturday, you get to sing it. But on Sunday you have to bring it," he said.

The Broncos, though, have no animosity toward the Packers.

"They're more respectful. There's no cheap shots. They play the game hard and intense and fair," Sharpe said.

Changes at top?

Holmgren, who refused a contract extension last year, said again yesterday that he might eventually be interested in handling the dual roles of coach-general manager.

"At some point in my life, I would like to do that," he said.

But he wouldn't discuss any possibilities yesterday.

"My entire focus is on the game," he said.

Holmgren is under contract through 1999 and there's been speculation the Seattle Seahawks might pursue Wolf or Holmgren after being turned down by Pittsburgh director of football operations Tom Donahoe.

Wolf said that even though both he and Holmgren are under contract, he wouldn't be surprised if team president Bob Harlan gave them permission to talk if another team shows interest in them after the Super Bowl.

Kelly prediction

Mike Lodish, the Broncos' defensive tackle who was on Buffalo's four losing Super Bowl teams with Jim Kelly, is predicting Kelly will return to play for the Ravens next season.

"He's coming back. I know he's coming back. It's in his blood," he said.

Going incognito

Running back Terrell Davis of the Broncos always stays in hotels on the road under an assumed name.

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