CHICAGO – Chicago Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman was hustling through the Austin airport Sunday afternoon with a delayed flight and a hankering for some barbecue. So he angled toward the food court, placed his order at the Salt Lick Taco Bar and prepared to attack a chopped brisket sandwich.
“I’m not really supposed to be eating that,” Freeman said. “But whatever. It’s probably my last bad meal for a while. So what the heck?”
But that’s when Freeman’s Sunday took an unforgettable twist. At a table nearby, he said, he noticed a stranger who appeared to be in distress. The man, devouring some brisket himself, stood up quickly, a look of grave concern across his face.
Said Freeman: “Like he had forgotten something and was about to go running for it. But then he went around the table and started to look a little frantic. I’m thinking, ‘Man, this is odd. Maybe one of his kids walked off and he can’t find his kid or something?’ ”
An older lady, recognizing the man was choking, tried to administer the Heimlich maneuver but wasn’t forceful enough, according to Freeman. So the 6-foot, 236-pound Bears linebacker jumped into action.
Heimlich attempt No. 1?
“I grabbed him and tried to squeeze the life out of him,” Freeman said. “You’ve got to push in and up. So I did that and he started throwing up what he was choking on. I asked him if he was all right and he shook his head like ‘No!’ ”
Heimlich attempt No. 2?
“I grabbed him again and hit him again with it,” Freeman added. “And when I put him down the second time, his eyes got big. He was like, ‘Oh, my god! I think you just saved my life, man!’ It was crazy.”
The choking man introduced himself as Marcus Ryan and, with both astonishment from the incident and some discomfort in his ribs from the Heimlich, inquired about Freeman’s strength. Freeman told Ryan he was headed back to Chicago, en route to Bears training camp later in the week.
The men posed together for a photo, after which Freeman tweeted about his unusual airport experience.
“CRAZY!! Just saved my guy Marcus Ryan’s life by using the Heimlich maneuver in the middle of the Austin airport! WOW Mom would be proud haha,” Freeman tweeted.
“I’ve never done the Heimlich before,” Freeman said. “I don’t think I’ve had any training or anything. My mom’s a nurse and she had talked about it. So I just did what I heard you should do. I guess it worked.”
Ryan, Freeman said, eventually went back at his brisket.
“Hey, I guess that was some good brisket. He wasn’t about to let that go to waste. You can’t get between a man and his brisket. I get it,” Freeman said.
Freeman’s eventful day wasn’t entirely done. His flight to Chicago was delayed and later, because of storms, diverted to St. Louis to refuel before finally arriving at O’Hare more than three hours late. But, Freeman said, at least he had been in the right place at the right time for Ryan. And now he has a pretty solid story to bring with him to Bourbonnais when he reports to training camp on Wednesday.
“A real good story, man,” Freeman said. “I was trying to save all my energy for training camp. And here I had to go rush up on this guy like I’m about ready to make a tackle. Whatever it takes.”