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Tuesday, Nov 21, 2017
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Steve Otto Columns

The wisdom of Solomon

Freddie Solomon is leaning back in a blue reclining chair. A tube is coming out of his chest and he is settling back for a three-hour session of chemotherapy at Florida Cancer Specialists on Habana Avenue. His wife, Delilah, is hovering nearby. She drove them in from their home outside Plant City for the second round in a series of treatments. Freddie has the beginnings of a beard, the white bristles standing out on his 58-year-old face. He looks gaunt, having lost 51 pounds since he went in for surgery a few months ago when they found the tumors, although he has put nearly 10 of those pounds back on. ** Those of us lucky enough to have been in the old Tampa Stadium those heady nights back in 1974 still remember the arrival of Freddie Solomon as quarterback for the University of Tampa.
He was a shy kid from Sumter, S.C., with a stuttering problem. And he was black. It was, after all, the mid 1970s and black quarterbacks had a whole different set of issues. He also had moves and blazing speed. More than one coach said Freddie would have won the Heisman Trophy if he had played running back at a big-time school. But Freddie fit in here; he found a comfort level at the school and in the community. He met Delilah, who was a ticket-taker down at the old Horizon movie theaters where Coach Dennis Fryzel took his football players to keep an eye on them. Apparently Freddie had his eye on someone else. Solomon went on to be drafted by and play for the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins sent him to classes to overcome the stuttering. Later he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, where he played the receiver position. In his career he would earn two Super Bowl rings and become recognized as one of the game's great receivers. ** When football ended the Solomons settled in the Tampa area. "She was from Tampa,'' Freddie says, "and here is where I really grew up and learned to be an adult." There still was a little Sumter in him, and the couple decided to build a house outside Plant City near Turkey Creek. Eventually he was offered a job with the sheriff's office and became a community resource person. It was perfect for Solomon. "I love working with kids and having the chance to talk to them about things such as respect and responsibility.'' For more than two decades he has been a fixture in our community; someone who wants to make a difference. Even kids who were not born when Freddie was flashing down the field and making those unbelievable cuts are taken in by his sincerity and openness. A few months ago he began suspecting something was wrong inside his body. Like a lot of us who aren't willing to accept that the body changes, he ignored it as long as he could. "I was constantly tired and there were other signs that something was not right." ** "If I had paid more attention, if I had done things such as a colonoscopy, I might not be sitting here undergoing this,'' he says. "At least I hope I can be a symbol and encourage more people, especially men, to get checkups, to see their doctors. Maybe I can help save lives because early detection does save lives. "I've always been a team player and now I feel like I'm on another team and I'm going to do exactly what they tell me to do. Dr. [Christopher] George is like my coach. That's the only way you can win.'' There are tears in his eyes when he says this. He means what he says. You have to pull for this guy who gave us a few years of flash at UT and decades of substance as a community leader. I mean here's someone who stopped off at Levy's trophies on the way in for the draining chemotherapy session to get some awards set up for a camp he runs every summer. Freddie Solomon is still the best. [email protected] (813) 259-7809
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