Irish eyes smile for O'Donnell, Freeman

Mar. 18—WILKES-BARRE — Neil O'Donnell Friday said he learned much about giving back to the community from his parents and his wife, Cathy.

The Greater Wilkes-Barre Friendly Sons of St. Patrick honored Attorney Neil O'Donnell as this year's "Man of The Year" at the 77th Anniversary Dinner, held at Mohegan Pennsylvania. The dinner was attended by more than 500 people.

Featured speaker for the evening was former Green Bay Packers standout and Super Bowl XXXI Champion Antonio Freeman.

More than 525 guests attended the event.

'A genuine sense to help others'

O'Donnell said he is very much humbled by the honor and he appreciates it because the Friendly Sons have played a major role in the community for decades.

"The Friendly Sons organization has been a big part of the fabric of our local community for many years," O'Donnell said. "And my father and grandfather attended the dinner over those many years. That's why this award is so special."

O'Donnell said his wife, Cathy, has been involved with so many community organizations that he, along with his parents, have shown him the importance of helping others.

"It all comes from a genuine sense to help others," he said. "This area is a great place to live. We are all here together, so we should do all we can to make the best of it for everyone."

O'Donnell has been practicing law for 30 years and is admitted to the Pennsylvania Court, United States District Court,Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States Supreme Court. He is Pennsylvania Super Lawyers Top 100 and Top 100, Martindale Hubble AV Preeminent Rating, National Trial Lawyer Top 100, Best Lawyers, Litigation Counsel of American Fellow, American Society of Legal Advocates Top 100 Lawyer, Rue Ratings Best Attorneys of America and National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

O'Donnell has served as Chair of the Senatorial Advisory Committee for Selection of United States Attorneys and U.S. Marshals for Pennsylvania (Eastern, Western, and Middle Districts) and as Co-Chair for the Senatorial Advisory Panel for Selection of U.S. District court. Also, he was selected to serve on the 11-member board for newly elected Gov. Josh Shapiro and Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis' Transition Leadership prior to the inauguration earlier this year.

O'Donnell is married to the former Catherine Ripepi and they are parents to Neil Phillip O'Donnell with his wife Mehak Rashid O'Donnell and Renata Marie O'Donnell. Cathy and Neil are also proud grandparents to three-month-old Adam Rashid O'Donnell.

Freeman's journey

Asked what his message would be to the sell-out crowd, Freeman said, "I'm going to tell my journey. I'll talk about my life and how I developed my work ethic."

Freeman grew up in Baltimore and in high school he played for Maryland against Pennsylvania in the Big 33 game. That is an all-star event featuring the top high-school football players in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"I grew up a Cowboys fan," Freeman said. "And they had the 86th pick in the draft. But they passed on me and the Packers took me at pick 99."

It all worked out and Freeman still is involved with the Green Bay organization and the community.

Freeman, 50, was born in Baltimore and was nicknamed "Free" or "Buttons." He was named Offensive Player of the Year by the Baltimore Sun in 1989 when he was a senior at Polytechnic High School in Baltimore. His team went 10-0 that year and won the Maryland Group A championship.

Freeman went to Virginia Tech to play college football, where he was a three-year starter. He departed as the Hokies' all-time leading receiver with 121 receptions for 2,207 yards. Freeman also set the all-time school record with 22 touchdown receptions.

Freeman was one of three third-round draft picks by the Green Bay Packers in 1995. In the postseason his rookie year, Freeman returned a punt for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC Wild Card Playoff game.

By his second year with the Packers in 1996, Freeman became the favorite target of quarterback Brett Favre. Although he broke his arm that season, Freeman still caught 56 passes for 933 yards and nine touchdowns.

In the postseason, Freeman also put up impressive numbers, as he caught nine passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came in Super Bowl XXXI, as No. 86 caught an 81-yard pass from Favre, as the Packers beat the New England Patriots 35-21.

In his overall regular-season career with the Packers, Freeman caught 431 passes for 6,651 yards and 57 touchdowns. That puts him at No. 8 all-time as a Green Bay receiver in terms of catches and No. 7 all-time in receiving yards.

In the postseason, in 14 games as a Packer, Freeman caught 47 passes for 748 yards and 10 touchdowns (which is still a team record).

Freeman played eight years with the Packers and also one year in 2002 with the Philadelphia Eagles, as he hauled in 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 75 yards in the postseason for the Eagles that year.

Freeman was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2009.

Freeman's hobbies include music and basketball, and he is a devout fan of his hometown Baltimore Orioles.

Regarding quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who appears headed to the Jets, Freeman said he feels the veteran QB wanted to leave.

"It's like deja by all over again," he said, noting that Rodgers sat behind Bret Favre for five years before becoming the starter.

The Packers are giving the job to Jordan Love, who has been sitting behind Rodgers for three years.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.