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Jets Ring of Honor Profile: Freeman McNeil

By Alan Schechter

In our continuing weekly series profiling the Jets Ring of Honor members, we take a look at another running back, this one from the 1980s. He spent his entire career with the New York Jets, and even made his mark off the field for players to come after him. Spotlight on RB Freeman McNeil.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, McNeil played his college football for UCLA, where he was a 2 time all Pac-10 selection. The Jets drafted him with their first pick of the 1981 draft (3rd overall).

Freeman played his entire career for the New York Jets, from 1981-1992. Over that career, he was one of the few running backs in the history of the NFL to rush for over 4 yards per carry in each of his seasons in the league. He teamed with Johnny Hector in the 1980s to lead the Jets “two-headed monster” that spearheaded the Jets running attack through the decade. He retired as the Jets all-time rushing leader with 8,074 yards(eventually surpassed by Curtis Martin).

He led the league in rushing in the strike shortened 1982 season with 786 rushing yards.

One of his most memorable games was in the 1982 playoffs, against the Cincinatti Bengals. As the first game in the Jets run to the AFC championship game, the Jets won 44-17, and Freeman McNeil was huge. He rushed 21 times for 202 yards and 1 TD, a 9.6 yard per carry average, truly dominating the football game.

He also made his mark post-retirement, when the court rendered the “Freeman McNeil decision”. Just after retirement, Freeman McNeil was a named plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL, arguing that the NFL Plan B free agency plan, was against anti-trust laws. The plan, in basic terms, allowed teams to protect 37 players, keeping them off of the open market. The players argued, and the judge agreed, that this kept the players from earning top salaries, among other things. So Freeman paved the way for free agency as we know it, at least in part.

A great ball player, and a guy who made his mark for generations of players going forward. Jets Ring of Honor member, Freeman McNeil.