Freeman McNeil is a Green & White fan favorite, in part because he's such a great Jet — he was our No. 1 draft choice in 1981, our all-time leading rusher until Curtis Martin came along, and a 2011 Ring of Honor inductee — and in part because he just seems to materialize at a venue and start chatting up folks as a fellow fan rather than as a football hero.
"Who is that over there, in the hat, signing autographs?" one member of the Green & White faithful asked at Thursday night's session at Jets House right across 33rd Street from Madison Square Garden. Told that it was indeed Freeman, he said, "Alllright!" and jumped into the growing number of fans wanting to meet and greet No. 24.
In between those autograph periods, he and I talked about a cause near and dear to his heart: Taste of the NFL.
"It's one of the charities I give to every year. I've been with them for more than a decade," McNeil said.
I can attest that Freeman's been a big contributor every year. I attended the Taste of the NFL event back in 2008 in Phoenix. As many fans may know this event or our annual Taste of the Jets event, the goal of the event is to "Party with a Purpose," attend a gala event in the city of that year's Super Bowl with the important goal of feeding the hungry.
All 32 teams, the league, and other entities are affiliated with a restaurant from each NFL city that prepares "tastes" of one of its signature foods and wines. Each player is seated at a table by the restaurant station, entertaining fans seeking an autograph, a photo, or a handshake.
And at the Phoenix event, Freeman's table seemed to have the longest line of fans in the building waiting to meet him.
At Jets House, McNeil appeared Thursday night and again this afternoon. He loves the fans, but his cause is never far from his consciousness.
"We raise money to replenish food banks in every NFL city," he explained. "There are a lot of people, the homeless and others, who just can't afford three meals a day. So the NFL has stepped up, but I think we're still the best-kept secret in the country. It's time for us to let people know who we are, what we do, and how hunger impacts this country."
It's not too late to get a Taste. Tickets are still on sale for this year's event, being held Saturday night at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Pier 12, with a breathtaking view of lower Manhattan. Guest tickets go for $700 and entry set for 7 p.m. If you can't attend the event but still want to help, you can still give a donation in the name of your favorite NFL team in the Taste of the NFL's Kick Hunger Challenge.
The More You Can Do
Current Jet Josh Cribbs has been known as a jack-of-all-trades kind of player, and he showed that with his running — and passing! — out of the Wildcat plus his kickoff and punt returns and kick coverage skills.
But how many of us knew he also belts out Gospel in his spare time?
Cribbs is a member of the NFL Players Choir that will be performing tonight at 7:30 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden as part of the 15th annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration.