TEMPE, Ariz. – It was in high school. On a basketball court.
Yes, Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney, a surefire Hall of Famer, came up with his signature spin move during his basketball-playing days at Bloomfield High School in Connecticut.
“I used to get called for traveling,” he explained Tuesday. “Well, every single time I got the ball in the post, I have a little spin move. Every time I’d get called for traveling, so I decided to play football. In football, there’s no traveling, right?”
Correct, and for Freeney it’s a decision — and a move — that’s carried him through now 13 NFL seasons.
“There was no guy that I really watched that I tried to emulate that move,” he continued. “It was pretty much, you know, get to point B, start at point A; however you get there, if you have to somersault, backflip, doesn’t matter as long as you’re making the play, so I’ve been doing it from, yeah, high school, college and on.”
The Freeney spin move helped the Cardinals clinch a playoff spot last week.
His third-down strip-sack of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with five seconds remaining sealed the Cardinals’ 23-20 win over Minnesota, putting the Cardinals in the postseason for the second time in as many years.
It was Freeney’s fourth sack in eight games — and remember, he didn’t join the Cardinals until Week 6 — which earned him a nice $200,000 contract bonus.
“For me, I just like making plays, helping out; just going out 100 percent,” he said. “I’m not going to try any harder because there’s an incentive. I’m already giving 110. There isn’t much more to give. But it just makes it a little more fun and something to talk about, obviously.”
Freeney’s four sacks — as many as he had in the previous two seasons combined — lead the Cardinals. Defensive tackle Calais Campbell and linebacker Markus Golden are tied for second with 2.5.
Freeney pointed out Tuesday he doesn’t spin all the time. He can’t. The move has to be setup.
“Think of it as kind of a pitcher does,” he said. “You have a fastball, you have a fastball and then all of sudden you throw a changeup and it looks like a fastball, so they’re swinging (at it) like a fastball and then it’s a changeup. It’s kind of like one of those off-speed types of pitches; and for me off-speed types of moves that get the guy moving one way and I get to go the other way.”
The sack of Bridgewater, in which he spun right around left tackle Matt Kalil, moved Freeney past Robert Mathis, currently of the Indianapolis Colts, and into 19th place on the NFL’s all-time sacks list with 115.5.
Freeney still holds the record for sacks at his high school. He ranks second at his alma mater, Syracuse University, where he set the single-season school mark of 17.5 as a senior.
Of course not all of those came via the spin move, but a good portion.
Freeney admitted he’s not the first defensive player to whirl his body around quickly to shake off a block, but most guys, according to Freeney, spun as a countermove while he “was probably one of the first guys to actually just do it as (an initial) move.”
And not once did Freeney think the move wouldn’t work at the pro level.
“It’s something that’s been part of me. It’s just always something I’ve always done,” he said. “It was never like, ‘oh, let me see if the spin move is going to work now.’ I’m spinning when I get off the bus. I’m spinning when I get out of the locker room. That’s just me.”
Freeney owes a lot of his playing career to that spin move.
While it got him in trouble on the basketball court, it’s been successful more times than not on the football field, likely securing Freeney’s spot inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Listen, it was the worst call. I still to this day think I never traveled (back in high school). Honestly. If I played in the NBA right now, it would be legal. It was like five steps,” he said, laughing. “It was something that, for me, it just made sense, it just made sense; find a way to get to the quarterback.”