Josh McCown and Julius Peppers will greet each other on the field at some point Sunday before their teams square off, knowing they’re part of an exclusive — and dwindling — NFL club.
The New York Jets quarterback and Carolina Panthers defensive end are two of only three active players who were selected in the 2002 NFL draft. And, until Detroit signed defensive end Dwight Freeney on Wednesday, McCown and Peppers were the only two this week.
“It’s an honor to look around and be the last two guys still rolling and still alive with him and the kind of guy he is and the kind of player he is to be alongside him,” McCown said a few hours before the Lions announced Freeney’s signing. “I love that guy. He’s a great player, great teammate, and I look forward to competing against him on Sunday.”
Peppers went No. 2 overall to Carolina, while McCown was a third-round selection — No. 81 overall — by Arizona. Freeney, by the way, was the No. 11 overall pick by Indianapolis.
“It’s pretty cool,” McCown said. “We hopped on a bus 16 years ago out in LA at the (NFLPA) Rookie Premiere and I hopped on and sat next to Julius. I’ve known him ever since and then got a chance to be teammates with him in Carolina and in Chicago. He’s a heck of a dude and a great football player. It’s really cool.”
McCown and Peppers played together with the Panthers in 2008 and ’09, and were reunited in Chicago, where they were teammates from 2011-13.
Both players are also having solid seasons, despite being in the twilight of their careers. The 38-year-old McCown has started every game for the 4-6 Jets and has thrown a career-best 14 touchdown passes. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Peppers leads Carolina with 7 1/2 sacks and ranks fourth all-time with 151, just nine behind current Jets assistant Kevin Greene for third place.
“His ability is rare and he’s a special, special talent, but also he cares about how he goes about his day and how he works at it,” McCown said of Peppers. “It’s important to him. I think he’s a quiet guy, so a lot of times the attention to the things that he does to get himself ready doesn’t get paid a lot, but he’s a hard worker. He gets after it. He has a strong desire to win and I think that is why he is still playing, because he wants to keep chasing it and he wants to win a Super Bowl.
“Those are the things that I appreciate about him and I think that’s what makes him special at this age.”
PLAY 60 FINALISTS: Three youngsters have been chosen as finalists for the NFL PLAY 60 Super Kid. The winner, to be decided through a fan vote that concludes Dec 5, will represent at the Super Bowl.
The kids, whose last names were not released, are Isabella of Altoona, Wisconsin; Manasa of Rochester, Minnesota; and Olivia, of Waverly, Iowa.
In its 10th year of getting youngsters active and healthy through the PLAY 60 program, the NFL asked young fans to show off their favorite celebration dances, in addition to sharing their commitment to getting active for 60 minutes a day. The winner of the contest will present the game ball to an NFL official on the field at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, as well as participating in other exclusive Super Bowl week events.
Isabella is a sixth grader wo roots for the Packers. Manasa is in seventh grade and also is a Packers fan. Olivia roots for the Vikings and is in seventh grade.
TEAM DRAFT’S SUPER BOWL CHALLENGE: Former NFL linebacker Chris Draft has kicked off Team Draft’s fourth annual Lung Cancer Survivors’ Super Bowl Challenge. The challenge gives lung cancer survivors the opportunity to compete to raise funds for public awareness and research in their communities. The top four fundraisers will join Team Draft at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, college football’s national championship game, or the Taste Of The NFL.
Founded by Draft and his wife, Keasha, who died of lung cancer in 2011, Team Draft is dedicated to raising lung cancer awareness and research funding through its campaign to change the face of lung cancer, the centerpiece of which is the Super Bowl Challenge.
“The Challenge achieves some amazing things in terms of public awareness and changing perceptions about lung cancer,” says Dr. Ross Camidge, director of thoracic oncology at Colorado University Cancer Center.
The Challenge also raises funds for lung cancer organizations and treatment centers in local communities across North America. Survivors raising more than $1,000 may commit 50 percent of the funds to a lung cancer organization or local cancer center, while survivors raising more than $5,000 can commit 80 percent of those funds to their chosen organization.
“Anybody can get lung cancer. The disease doesn’t care where you live, but your zip code often determines the quality of care you receive,” says Draft, who played a dozen seasons with six NFL teams before retiring after the 2009 schedule. “In football, we understand the importance of the home-field advantage. By allowing survivors to direct where funds go, we’re giving people the opportunity to fight for better cancer treatment in their communities —to give themselves and their neighbors the home-field advantage.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr., contributed.