McNeil, Freeman

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Freeman McNeil
Freeman McNeil was a three time Pro Bowl running back for the New York Jets from 1981 to 1994.


Background and college

Born April 22, 1959 in Jackson, Mississippi, McNeil was one of the most highly recruited players in the nation as a senior at Banning High School in Wilmington, copping the L.A. City’s Player of the Year Award as a senior in 1975 after rushing for 1,343 yards (8.1 avg.) and 27 TDs. He then went to UCLA, where, as a history major, he ran for 100 or more yards in 17 collegiate games, was named the Bruins’ MVP in 1979 and 1980, earned first team All-American honors in 1980 and piled up 3,195 rushing yards, still placing him #2 all-time on the Westwood, CA, campus.

NFL Career

As a Jet

81-82: Rookie year & Leading the NFL

McNeil was taken with the third overall pick of the 1981 NFL Draft. Prior to signing with the Jets, McNeil had threatened to sign with Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League if his multiyear contract demands were not met. He got off to a good start in 1981 and was the eighth leading rusher in the AFC before he he picked up a foot injury - the first injury of many. He still finished the season with 623 yards, helping the Jets return to the playoffs for the first time since 1969.

In the strike shortened 1982 season, McNeil led the NFL in rushing with 786 yards. In the two playoff games against Cincinnati and Los Angeles, he rushed for 303 yards, but in the AFC Championship game, Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins ordered the tarps left off the field in a torrential downpour, turning the field to sludge, and taking away the Jets' rushing game. In the game, which became known as the Mud Bowl, McNeil only managed 46 yards in a 14-0 defeat. He was named to his first Pro Bowl.

83-85: 1,000 yards and more Pro Bowls

The following season, injury once again cut McNeil's playing time, limiting him to 654 yards in 1983. Despite only playing 12 games, the 1984 season saw McNeil break the 1,000 yard mark for the first time, becoming the first Jet since John Riggins. It wasn't enough to get the Jets to the postseason, though, but it did result in McNeil's second Pro Bowl appearance. 1985 saw McNeil named to a third Pro Bowl, and setting a Jets record for rushing yards. His career best 1,331 yards helped the Jets to another playoff appearance.

86-88: The strike and benching

1986 saw a drop off in McNeil's production, but he still avergaed 4 yards per game. In 1987, the NFLPA went on strike after the Jets-Patriots game in the second week of the season. Week 3 was cancelled and Weeks 4-6 were played with replacement players. Just before the strike, McNeil said he would not support it and would, in fact, cross the line. "I couldn't go out because of the way I am," he said. "I signed a contract. When you have a contract -whether it's as a parent or anything else - you honor it." But after a team meeting, he, too, stayed out, sacrificing about $42,000 a game. After the strike ended, McNeil had a temporary dip in form, averaging under 40 yards per game, which caused him to be benched for the first time in his career, in favor of Johnny Hector. However after an injury to Hector, McNeil returned with a vengeance. Against the Chiefs, McNeil rushed for 184 yards on 26 carries and 8 yards on 1 reception. It was the second-best performance of his career in a regular-season game. McNeil played a full 16 games in 1988, finishing with 944 yards and 6 touchdowns, equalling his season best rushing TDs.

89-92: Injuries start to take their toll

In 1989, McNeil was sidelined by a serious ankle injury and rushed for 352 total yards on 80 carries for the season. It was the first season since his arrival he wasn't the leading rusher. He then signed a new one year deal, but in 1990, after the selection of Blair Thomas in the 1990 NFL Draft, the Jets exposed him to waivers, but no team picked him up. In 1990 he managed to play in every game for only the third season in his career, but as a back up to Thomas. Again in 1991 injury limited his playing time.

93: The end

On April 21, 1993, the day before his 34th birthday, McNeil ended his 12-year run with the team. He said he would like to be remembered as a player who had the respect of his peers and who had done his best to better their conditions.

"I played with my heart, because that's the only way I knew how to play. And I live my life with my heart. I stand up for what I believe in and I feel good about my career."

McNeil was the Jets' leading rusher in 8 consecutive seasons, and is second overall in rushing yards. His 1985 single season record stod until Curtis Martin beat it in 1999. He also averaged at least 4 yeards per carry every season of his twelve year career.

McNeil and Free Agency

In 1990, eight players, led by McNeil brought a new antitrust action against the NFL challenging its free agency rules as an unlawful restraint of trade.In 1992, a jury found for the players, declaring the N.F.L.'s Plan B free-agency system an illegal restraint of trade That verdict, the pendency of other antitrust cases and the threat of a class action filed by Reggie White, then with the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of all NFL players brought the parties back to the negotiating table. They finally agreed on a formula that permitted free agency in return for salary caps tied to a formula based on players' share of total league revenues. Ironically, McNeil wasn’t to benefit from the judgement, as he would only play one more season. It didn’t bother him much, though: "I didn't get into this thing to hurt anyone or take anything from anyone," said McNeil. "I got into it to stand up for something that is right and for the most part have it be in a fair arena. "For the most part I think things worked out very well. And I'm glad they worked out the way they did, because now people can see that it wasn't about the money. It was about the issues."

After the NFL

Today, McNeil is busier than ever as a financial planner to athletes and other high-income individuals, as a sportscaster and football analyst on radio and TV, as a consultant on major business projects and alliances, as a sough-after motivational speaker and as a role model for numerous charities and non-profit organizations. In 2005, he was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.

McNeil currently resides on Long Island, NY, with his wife and three sons.


Regular season

    Rushing   Receiving
Season Att Yds Avg TD Lng Rec Yds Avg TD Lng
1981 137 623 4.5 2 43 18 171 9.5 1 18
1982 151 786 5.2 6 48 16 187 11.7 1 32t
1983 160 654 4.1 1 19 21 172 8.2 3 21
1984 229 1070 4.7 5 53 25 294 11.8 1 32
1985 294 1331 4.5 3 69 38 427 11.2 2 25
1986 214 856 4.0 5 40 49 410 8.4 1 26
1987 121 530 4.4 0 30 24 262 10.9 1 57
1988 219 944 4.3 6 28 34 288 8.5 1 25
1989 80 352 4.4 2 19t 31 310 10.0 1 25t
1990 99 458 4.6 6 29 16 230 14.4 0 59
1991 51 300 5.9 2 58 7 56 8.0 0 13
1992 43 170 4.0 0 18 16 154 9.6 0 32
Total 1798 8074 4.5 38 69 295 2961 10.0 12 59

Playoff statistics

    Rushing   Receiving
Season Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
1981 12 32 2.7 0 0 0 0.0 0
1982 62 362 5.8 1 3 29 9.9 0
1985 16 41 2.6 0 3 13 4.3 0
1986 56 208 3.7 3 7 51 7.3 0
1991 4 1 0.3 0 4 23 5.8 0
Total 150 642 4.3 4 17 116 6.8 0
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