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The tenacity of Terence Newman
We may never see an NFL cornerback quite like him. The 15-year vet relives it all with Go Long, from out-running dogs to fetching Bill Parcells water to the countless injuries to that Minnesota pain.
Hundreds of years from now, football anthropologists will study Terence Newman.
This is a career that doesn’t make much sense. Most all cornerbacks fade away for good by age 33 or 34… and Newman lasted until he was 39. Not only that. He was a starter and played well up to 39. A fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, Newman played nine seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, three for the Cincinnati Bengals and his final three with the Minnesota Vikings.
In all, he totaled 42 interceptions, 183 breakups, eight forced fumbles and 11 recoveries.
Yet numbers never told the tale, of course. There’s a good chance everyone remembers their first conversation with Newman. I certainly do. In 2016, I was in Minnesota for a Bleacher Report story with, sadly, a hairline retreating to scant nothingness. Newman took one look at the loose strands atop my head and wasted no time shouting “L-I-G. Let It Go!” Newman, bald for years, told this total stranger to shave his head the moment upon returning home. The ladies, he assured, would not run away in horror.
He was correct. I took a razor to those ruins of a once-great society, met my wife a few days later and now we have two kids. So, hey, this seemed like a swell time to finally give Newman a call. His life has since changed drastically, too. After retiring, Newman coached for a bit and now cares most about his raising his three-year-old daughter in California.
We got into just about everything over two hours… from the wild source of his speed (a chow) to Sam Hurd (he read the Bible daily), Bill Parcells (the Hall of Fame coach was rough on first-rounders), Marion Barber (Newman read the news of his teammate’s death mid-interview and says he saw the dark signs), Jerry Jones (at the bar with an “entourage”), gritting through some surreal injuries his team doctor misdiagnosed and all of that Minnesota heartbreak.
Thanks for reading, everyone.
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What is life like for you day to day?
Newman: Mostly, I have been living in Cali. Doing a little real estate. I’ve been flipping some houses. Fixing them up a little bit. Sold them for a little profit. Things have gotten crazy out here. I bid on a couple houses and people — some of these investors — are buying houses $300,000, $400,000 over asking price. It has slowed down now, given the interest hike. But it’s been pretty damn crazy.
If you’re not going to do anything football-related, that must be pretty sweet.
Newman: And it’s nice to transition, to get away from football a little bit. Just to see what else is out there. You meet a different type of person out here. A lot of the guys I started playing with were all so young and they didn’t have the same vision I had. They could focus on the things that were literally just in front of them, and they didn’t focus on the future. It’s nice to be around older-minded people. More like-minded people who think about the future and kids and all that stuff, rather than just going home and playing video games every day.
It's tough for guys to find happiness and a purpose when they’re done playing. One of your old teammates, Darren Woodson, we’ve talked about how difficult it is to find your place in the world when you finally retire. You played forever. So, I’m thinking it’s especially hard for you.
Newman: You know it’s going to end. Hell, I think there were like three or four years where I contemplated calling it quits. The hardest part is finding that next niche. What are you passionate about? What do you want to do with your time from here on out? So, I took a little time off when I finished. That was the first time I was ever able to relax and enjoy the offseason. Now, I have this little girl and she takes the majority of my time. I just want to make her smile every day, all day.
You’re probably ripping through “Moana,” and all the Disney movies?
Newman: She’s still into Morphle, Cocomelon, she likes all that stuff.
You’re not out of the Cocomelon stage yet? That is dangerous.
Newman: No, but she’s transitioning. Morphle is taking the driver’s seat.
Good, good. Cocomelon is crack. There’s something in that show.
Newman: Especially because we start to sing the songs day to day. One of those songs pops in my head and I can’t help but to sing it.
“Today is the day! It’s the first day of school!”
Newman: Exactly. She gets into bed, and I start singing stuff from Cocomelon.
This next stage of life, being a Dad, you timed up perfect. You’re able to have the time to do all of this stuff, instead of trying to juggle football and injuries and all of that madness with raising a young kid.
Newman: It was by design. I didn’t want to have to travel and be away from her. Especially, only kid, first kid, not knowing how that’s going to be and putting pressure on her Mom.
When we first met, you described life in Salina, Kansas. You’re getting bullied. You’re the runt. You’re battered, beaten at the playground. What was that life like? Because it’s hard to imagine one of the true fighters in the NFL was the kid getting bullied way back then.
Newman: That’s where I built my resiliency. Especially my speed. You can’t fight everybody. A lot of those fights, I had to run away from. I think that’s part of where I got my speed. The other one was, we had this dog in the neighborhood. And any time I walked down this street, I knew this dog was going to chase me. So I always had to be on my P’s and Q’s. He was a chow. A mean f----r, too. So I had to have my eyes open and out. So, I’d get into a little battle at the playground, and then I’d run and start walking home. I go down this street. And it seemed like every single time I’d walk down this street, this little chow would chase my ass. I had to hightail it. I think that’s honestly how I built my speed. Just running from this damn dog.
A little chow?
Newman: He wasn’t little. He was a mean son of a bitch.
How would you describe that sense of fear when you’d see this dog?
Newman: You know how some guys are worried about what they’re going to run in the 40? When this dog was chasing me, I knew I was running a 4.1. He’d chase you and growl — “Arghh! Arghh!” I didn’t want to find out what was going to happen. He was a pretty good-sized dog. He was probably 40 pounds, an adult. I’d have to jump fences and do all this shit just to get away from him.
How often was that?
Newman: A couple times a week. Sometimes, I would detour it and take a longer route home. But I didn’t want to walk extra blocks just to walk extra blocks. I kind of found a niche and figured out which fences I could jump over. It became easy to navigate. But after a while — it wasn’t even a year that I had to do it — at some point the dog was gone. I don’t know if he ran away. I don’t know what happened. I was just happy I didn’t have to run for my life anymore.
What about the fights? What do you remember about those brawls you’d get into with kids bigger than you?
Newman: I was one of those kids who didn’t back down. At the same time, I knew I was outmanned by size. I was a little guy. I was slight. So, these dudes would start talking and, of course, I’m like “Whatever. What do you want to do?” Then, I’d always end up throwing a punch and running. That was the move.
Would you knock them out?
Newman: No! It was the weakest punch you could throw. You’ve got to prepare to run at the same time. So it’s not like you can throw all your weight into it, throw this haymaker, and come out alive. You’ve got to strategically throw a weak punch — get the first lick, the only lick — and then run for your life.
And then you get into football. Your helmet doesn’t even fit. Your thigh pads are hanging…
Newman: …thigh pads turned to the side. They were down to my knees. My knee pads were damn near on my shins.
You are the smallest guy out there and, now, kids can legally smack you. Was that rough?
Newman: No, because I was fast. And I played running back. They’d hand me the ball and it was to my advantage. I was a small target. I can’t tell you how many balls I took that were home run balls and all of the running from that dog helped because we would run a sweep, and I would run the distance.
Was running back the dream?
Newman: It was, and it got to a point where I was too small to play the position really. I played running back until I was in the ninth grade. My best friend was probably one of the best athletes I had met growing up. The perfect body type. Thick body, very strong. He would’ve played varsity as a ninth grader but we had another running back who got scholarship offers from D-I colleges. So, he had to wait his turn. Unfortunately, that was the last year he actually played. He took a different path. That was when gangs were more prevalent and he wanted to be a gangster. That was his last year playing. I played as a ninth-grader, and then I decided I wanted to be a basketball player after my ninth grade. I only played basketball my 10th grade year. Had fun playing basketball but I realized if I was going to college, I needed a scholarship. We didn’t have money growing up. My cousin talked me into running track my junior year and I decided to go back and play football. I had success on the track. It was probably my better sport to be honest with you. If I trained for track, I could’ve been very successful with it. Ultimately, I think I made the right decision with football.
When you were playing Pop Warner, wasn’t there one breakthrough moment that gave you all sorts of self-confidence?
Newman: We played this school in McPherson, Kansas who had this running back nobody could tackle. I was probably in sixth or seventh grade and we all thought this kid was a 10th grader. We’d watch him on film catch a sweep and it was like guys didn’t want to touch him. So we’re playing in McPherson, and I tackle him. I was the smallest kid on the field. I said, “OK. I can do this. I can play football.” That was one of those moments where you’re more sure of yourself because you do something nobody else can do — everybody else is afraid to do.
All of us can remember that Oklahoma Drill, that Bull in the Ring, that moment in a game when you had to stick your head in there and hit someone. It’s attrition. You realize if this sport is for you or not.
Newman: Facts. It’s a true battle of attrition.
We’ve chatted with Vince Williams here and, as he says, it’s almost like you don’t have to be tough to play the sport anyone. It’s more finesse. Do you agree with that?
Newman: I think that’s the best way to play. The best way to stay injury-free — sound mind, sound body. I played with a guy named Jarrod Cooper in college. He was the kamikaze. He’d run down on the kickoff and lead with his head. Make big hits. But this was when concussions were an afterthought. You get a concussion, shake it off and run back to the sideline, get some smelling salts and run back out there on the next possession. “Coop” had advance stages of CTE and was bedridden for half of a month. I haven’t heard much from him but I’ve heard he’s struggling. The guys who played the game like that — Junior Seau — the guys who’ve taken their own lives, if they were alive right now, they would tell you to make it more of a finesse game.
I had totally forgotten about Jarrod Cooper. He needed to retire early.
Newman: I heard he was in direct contact with Bennet Omalu, the guy who coined CTE, just because of his advance stages. And this is when he was in his 30s. Last I heard he was in Oakland volunteering at an animal shelter.
When did you realize in college that this could be your career?
Newman: My sophomore year. We played Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl. I had some dogs in front of me. So I knew I had to wait my chance. Jerametrius Butler, in the Cotton Bowl, went down in the first quarter. I was the backup so I had to play. This is when they had Donte Stallworth, Eric Parker, Travis Henry, Jason Witten. They had a stacked team. Donte Stallworth ran like a 4.2. I came into the game having not played extensively at all and I held my own. I think I gave up two or three catches. I had six PBUs. Tackling Travis Henry. I realized, “I can really do this.” I had all the talent in the world. But I never put it together. I was fast. I was agile. I could jump. I could do all that. But for some reason, I couldn’t put all of that together. I couldn’t use it in a way that was beneficial to me as a corner. Our coaches would help me. I would stay late watching film, trying to correct my technical issues I had. I would go watch the film by myself after practice. It was that game that opened my eyes. I said, “This is my moment. I arrived.”
You’ve seen several guys, especially at corner, go to the Combine and run a super fast time. ESPN, they highlight them. They get all this publicity for running a 4.2. But then when they play, you never hear about this kid. Honestly, it’s because a lot of guys don’t understand how to use that speed. I had really good coaches who showed me how to do it. Just because you can run a 4.2 doesn’t mean you have to.
You get to Dallas — fifth overall pick — and right away you’re on a playoff team, playing for Bill Parcells. What are your memories from that rookie season?
Newman: Parcells. That’s the first thing I remember. He was a mean-ass coach.
How mean was he?
Newman: He was a mean coach. I can’t remember if it was my rookie year, second year or third year but we had a bad practice. He comes in. We all shower and whatnot. He told all of our athletic trainers to leave — to leave the facility, shut the training room, put bags and ice in an ice chest and put a sign on the door that says “treat yourself.” I’m dead-ass serious. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anything like this.
What are you thinking when you see that?
Newman: Well, shit, before that I already knew. Just listening to him talk, he’d say whatever was on his mind to you. I already knew he didn’t like guys in the training room. He would come through the training room and guys would run like roaches with the lights on. He just hated seeing guys in the training room. He’d say “You can’t play if you’re in the tub.”
Was this a good thing or bad thing?
Newman: To me, it was terrible. You want your guys healthy, don’t you? If they can’t get treatment, how are you going to let your guys heal and get ready for the next game?
What is it like when your team is beat down by November, December?
Newman: That was the thing. You talked about attrition earlier. He wanted the strongest team. You had to be mentally tough. You had to have mental fortitude. But you also had to be physically tough. That was what he instilled. He was an old school coach.
Oh my god. Did you hear about Marion Barber? I just looked at my watch and got several text messages. You know what? I had seen Marion three years ago just before I moved out here. It was raining and I’m driving to the gas station. Probably about a mile from my house and Marion had lived in a high-rise not far from my house. So I see this guy walking down the street — in the rain. I get to the gas station and it’s Marion. I hadn’t seen Marion in a while, but I heard he had fallen on hard times and wasn’t doing too well. So, we talked and exchanged numbers but I was scared when I saw him. He looked bad. He looked like he wasn’t there, like he was a different person, like he couldn’t function. And that’s probably why he was walking and not driving. When I tell you I was scared, I thought he might swing on me. I was actually scared.
A look about him? What made you feel scared?
Newman: He had a look but also his face was just droopy. It looked like he was homeless. Like he lived on the streets. I guess he had so many concussions that it really impacted him. I read in the paper he had gone to a church and got arrested — in a little town just outside of Dallas. He had taken a gun to church, and he had shown the people in the church the gun. So, they called the cops and took him in for a mental evaluation.
From the concussions you think?
Newman: I think that had to play some type of role in whatever happened to him.
(Note: Newman cut the conversation short this day to catch up on what happened to his fallen teammate, and we picked back up a few days later.)
What were those expectations like as a fifth overall pick?
Newman: It wasn’t as tough as most people would think. After winning the Thorpe Award and being an All-American in college, my confidence was sky high. It got to a point where I knew I could compete against guy I faced. It was a matter of believing it. Because it is a different talent. Everybody you see is fast in the league. In college, you get a couple guys who can run. But in the pros, everybody is there for a reason. I think Parcells was really good at making sure all of his first-round picks stayed humble. Every water break we got during practice — before I could get water — I had to go to our trainer, grab a cup of water or Gatorade and take it to Parcells. Dead serious. I didn’t get it at first but it was his way of humbling people. Here I am, a first-round pick, and I have to go grab this dude a water before I even get a drink. It’s hot outside. I’m doing all the running. He’s coaching, but he’s not sweating how we’re sweating.
He did it with his first-round picks.
That had to piss you off a little? A little strange?
Newman: It actually wasn’t because at the end of the week I got that paycheck and I was like, “Shit! I’m the highest-paid water boy in the history of water boys.”
What do you treasure most from your Cowboys days?
Newman: What was really cool, as a rookie, we all know who Jerry Rice is. One of the best to ever do it. I got to play against Jerry Rice. He was playing for Oakland that year. Obviously, Father Time is undefeated. He had slowed down a little bit. He still ran some of the crispiest routes. I held my own. I played really good against Jerry Rice. That was my Welcome to the NFL moment.
You played through some crazy injuries, too. What was the worst pain you fought through?
Newman: I had an ACL joint that was painful, but fairly easy to shoot up. Everybody knows about Toradol shots. Every player has had a Toradol shot. Probably the worst was when we were in training camp one year in Oxnard, and I was going against Sam Hurd. That’s a whole other conversation we could have. El Chapo Junior.
Any red flags down those lines?
Newman: No! That’s the crazy part about it. Sam moved lockers at one point in time — and this isn’t too long before he got caught. Sam was two lockers away from me. Maybe even next door. And every day, he’d sit in his locker and read the Bible. Every single day. He sat in his locker and read the Bible. I’m thinking he is the most holy person on earth. And then, all of a sudden, this whole thing comes out that he’s trafficking drugs. I’m like, “What?! We’re not talking about the same Sam Hurd. Who are you talking about?”
Every single day?
Newman: Every day! He’d quote Bible verses. He was a nice guy, too — genuinely nice. I just didn’t know he was into cabbage like that. That was one of the craziest stories. Out of all the people, that’s the last person I’d suspect with that.
Most cornerbacks expire about halfway through your career. How did you last this long?
Newman: Red wine. Of course. That’s the secret to all longevity. You have to have copious amounts of red wine in your bloodstream. … I used to drink red wine at least three or four times a week.
What do you like most about red wine? What makes it that fuel?
Newman: I honestly don’t know. I took a trip to Napa and did a lot of wine tastings, and visited Silver Oak and Pride Mountain Vineyards is one of my favorites. But I went to all these places and got educated on it. For me, I wasn’t a big party person or a big drinker taking shots of tequila. So if I went out with the fellas, I could get a glass of red wine and drink it, sip it while everyone else is getting toasted. I didn’t like the hangovers. You can have two glasses and still be good. But you don’t chug it. Pinot Noir was probably the first type of wine I fell in love with, and then I started drinking some Cabs and from there I went to Shiraz, Merlot, blends. That hasn’t changed at all.
More than any avocado ice cream, TB12-like method, this was the key. The red wine.
Newman: Avocado ice cream? I am not Anglo Saxon. I feel like avocados are a big Anglo thing.
Those Cowboy parties had to be crazy, too. I’ve heard some wild stories. I’m not sure if the players went out with Jerry Jones, but they’re probably hitting it hard.
Newman: I’ll tell you one of the craziest things I saw. There was a place in Dallas off of Travis Street in Uptown Dallas. I’m with a couple of fellas in this bar. Andre Gurode was with me. We’re walking one place to the next and, all of a sudden, we see Jerry Jones in there. We’re like, “Wait a minute. Was that Jerry?” Andre was like, “That’s Jerry!” So we go over to him and say, “What’s up, Jerry?” He had a nice entourage with him, too. I’m not going to say too much about that entourage that he had because I don’t want to get anybody in trouble. My man knows how to party, let’s just say that. So, he ended up buying a couple drinks for us. I guess that was his hush money. We kept quiet.
It’s an understood, like “let’s not talk about this?”
Newman: It was understood. Nobody had to say anything. It was just, “Alright.” He gave us that look of, “Hey, this is between us.”
You should have really milked this and talked about your contract.
Newman: I didn’t have any dirt on him. I just knew the crowd he was with, but I didn’t have enough dirt on him to go that route. Now, if I had seen some stuff? I would’ve definitely used that to my advantage.
And you played in Dallas until you were 33, 34 when you then went to Cincinnati in 2012. How did you extend your career at that point? You got better with age, just like wine.
Newman: That’s why I use that as my go-to. The honest part of it is, when you’re younger, you go to the gym and do all this crazy stuff. I always thought that if you worked hard, you’d get it on the back end. I had to realize that — as you get older — you need to work smarter, not harder. I had to adjust the way I worked out. I wasn’t one of the guys who’d go to the field and do backpedals. I’d play basketball three times a week and get the reactive footwork. Just like playing DB. That was literally my routine. Two weeks before we go to training camp, I would go to the track and run a couple 200s. We always had those conditioning tests. It was just understanding my body and some of the issues I had previously were still affecting me.
In Dallas, I played a whole season with a torn MCL. It was a Grade 3. I broke on a slant in practice, my knee gave out, and I was diagnosed as having a bone bruise. So, I played a whole year with this and then — after the season — I’m talking to my agent: “Hey, man, my knee. They keep telling me it’s a bone bruise but my knee is still not right. I get an MRI after the season and my MCL was still 50 percent torn. I played a full season. And all of the rehab I did was for a born bruise, not for an MCL tear. That’s something that still aggravates me today: my left knee. Just because I didn’t rehab it properly. I ultimately could’ve played a little longer if it wasn’t for my knee. My knee was done and it was time for me to call it quits.
And that was back in Dallas?
Newman: Early in my career. And after that year, I was getting nagging injuries that I had to continue to play with. Back when I was talking about Sam Hurd, we were doing 1 on 1’s and I went up to defend Sam against a go ball. We both came down. He landed on me. My body was twisted one way and Sam was going the other way. He caught my leg, so basically it just ripped my leg open. Into a split. I got diagnosed with an abductor injury and I continued to play. We were playing against Washington in probably Week 4 or 5 of the year and there was a part in that game where I couldn’t even lift my leg anymore. I’m thinking, “This is it. I can’t lift my leg. I can’t run.” So, I go see Dr. Meyers, a great doctor who pioneered the whole technique for hernia surgery. I sent him my film, he looked at it, he said, “Oh yeah, you have a hernia. We’ve got to stitch this up.” I get to North Carolina totally solo, rent a car, have the surgery and I fly back to Dallas the next day. Crazy, right?
And the Cowboys had no clue on that either? You hear about Tyrod Taylor getting stabbed in the lung by his own team doctor. Many of these team doctors don’t know what they’re doing.
Newman: Sometimes, they don’t go through the necessary procedures to make sure they check all the boxes to say, “This is exactly what it is.” It’s more like a, “This is what you did to injure it. So, this is probably what it is.” I think we might’ve taken an MRI of my thigh, my abductor, which was cool, but I had torn my ab. My low ab. Crazy. I was out a couple months and came back to play pretty good.
The torn MCL or the hernia: which was more painful?
Newman: Probably the ab. You have to pull yourself up in the morning just to get out of bed. That was probably the worst one for me. No, no, no, no. You want to know the worst injury I had? I tore an ab muscle in my rib cartilage playing the Giants at AT&T Stadium (in 2010). Monday night. I get an interception. I’m running it back and I go to cut back — I’m at the 10, about to score — and he pulls me down from the opposite side. The way my body torqued, it ripped my rib cartilage and tore my ab. I actually have a scar to this day of where I got injected. I go in as soon as I tear it, get an injection and go back out to gut it out and play. Every game after that for I don’t know how many months, I had to get an injection in my ab just to cope with the pain. I got it so frequently that it actually ate my skin and I have a scar from when I was getting the injections.
That was by far the worst pain I’ve felt in my life. It was hard to just sit down and feel comfortable. You feel constant pain. There is no position you can get in that alleviates the pain at all. I would sit in meetings and leave the meeting room. It’s hard to breathe because the more you breath, the more everything moved. I would go in and say, “Can you give me something, so I can sit in my meeting room?” They’d give me a shot, I’d go back to the meeting room and of course it hurts. That is the worst pain I’ve ever felt.
You can imagine the amount of torque you get as I’m cutting, going left, and he’s pulling me going right. Ahmad Bradshaw. And I immediately feel it. I get up. Literally, they have to help me back to the locker room. They gave me an injection in the rib area, go back into the game and don’t play that well. I didn’t sit out a game. I gutted that out. That was the most excruciating pain I’ve felt.
Why would you play on? And in the same game?
Newman: Players were so much different back then than now. It was more of that no pain, no gain type of thing. If you could play through it, then play through it. Now, you’re encouraged to report different things and if you can’t play, you can’t play.
In Cincy, toward the end of the 2014 season, you lost all kinds of weight and your temperature was 105. What happened then?
Newman: I had the flu. Before the game, I was in the training room saying, “I just don’t feel good.” So, I asked for something for my cough. They say, “Here you go.” We get into the game and Demaryius Thomas was kicking my ass. On the sideline, I throw up. I just started throwing up and coach goes, “You alright?” and I said, “Man, I don’t feel good.” So, they pulled me out and put Dre Kirkpatrick in. Dre had two picks that game — so I wish I sat that game out. I go in the next day, they take my temperature and it was 105. They send me home immediately. They give me some medicine, cough drops, everything under the sun. They say, “Come check in tomorrow and we’ll see how you’re doing.” I go back in the next day, they send me back home. They sent me back home for three days. Then, we played Pittsburgh at the end of the week.
But, man, I lost a ton of weight and couldn’t stop coughing. That was the worst part. When you get sick, you get one hell of an ab workout. When you’re coughing religiously, you’ll get a six-pack — no question. I think I had a six-pack and by the time I felt better I had an eight-pack. I had eight abs.
On to Minnesota, you had the negative-25 wind chill playoff loss to Seattle (in 2015). How cold was it really?
Newman: It was so cold that, if you weren’t by the heater on the sideline and the trainer gave me water, the water froze in the water bottle. One guy would take a drink, give it back to the trainer and the trainer would give it to somebody else and the top of the bottle was frozen. The coldest game I’ve ever played in. And Bud Grant did the coin toss in a polo! Ain’t no way!
You talk about shrinkage. For some of us, we don’t have to worry about shrinkage.
How excruciating is it to see your kicker miss a chip shot in that cold?
Newman: We had a chance to not put that pressure on him. Blair was a hell of a kicker, don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to kick the ball once the temperatures drops. We had a chance to score. We could’ve run the ball, threw the ball, whatever. We had a chance to not put it on his foot and we chose to run clock and kick a field goal to end it. I wish we would’ve been more aggressive. Obviously you don’t want to put the ball in the air in that position but where we were field position-wise, it makes sense to just try to run the ball in. I think they didn’t want to leave too much time on the clock and have Russell Wilson do something crazy, especially if he’s running around making all types of plays. I think we made a mistake in not being more aggressive in trying to run the ball in. We had Adrian Peterson. You try to put the ball in his hands. He had been labeled as fumble-prone. Maybe that played into it? And the cold weather doesn’t help. But I felt so bad for Blair.
I hung out with Blair. We played a lot of golf together. Man, he was never the same after that. I think that really, really impacted him mentally. It was something he never got over.
How did he deal with it day to day? That kick is right there with all of the heartbreak Minnesota fans have endured. We all knew right then it’d live in infamy.
Newman: Can you imagine if you had somebody who went to the White House and was standing on a stage with Joe Biden, since he’s the president right now, and this person had white pants on and this person accidentally coughed and shitted? And they’re at the White House? And everybody could see this person’s face change and everyone sees this guy in his white pants shit himself? And this is on national TV. That’s how I felt with Blair. Everywhere he goes, it’s like, “Alright, is someone going to say something? How does he feel right now? Does he feel confident and comfortable here?” You always wonder, “What does he feel right now?”
And that will be the case for whoever’s around Blair Walsh until God knows when. He was great that year, too. He led the league with 34 makes and hit 87 percent of his kicks. But there was something about that cold?
Newman: I can’t get over it. We should’ve been a lot more aggressive and tried to score six.
You had fourth and short.
Newman: We had Adrian Peterson at running back and Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.
Still, Walsh did make kicks from 22, 43 and 47 that same game.
Newman: He was the reason we were even in the game. But you’re in the playoffs. We were like, “If we get past Seattle? There’s no telling what could happen.” We’re on the sideline like that right before he kicked it. We’re thinking this is a chip shot, this is nothing, we’re going to the next round and we can really shake this thing up. Obviously, it didn’t go that way.
Next thing you know, Teddy Bridgewater’s leg snaps in half in front of you guys at practice the next season.
Newman: And I didn’t know anything that happened. We were on the practice field. He was at quarterback, I was at corner. The ball is snapped, I’m guarding Charles Johnson down the field and I see one of my safeties in the corner of my eye shoot off running to the sideline and I’m like, “What the hell happened?” This is early in the play. So I’m like, “What the hell just happened?” I keep running and I see somebody else running toward our sidelines where our coaches are at. I turn around. Guys are throwing their helmets and dropping their heads like, “Oh my God.” Then I look back and see our trainers bubbled around somebody on the opposite side of the field. I go over to my coach, Coach Gray, and say, “What happened?” He said, “Man, Teddy hurt his knee.” Me and Teddy were pretty tight. Teddy is as solid of a person that you’ll ever meet. I go over to Teddy, tell him he’s going to be OK and, at this point, you know it’s going to be big news. I said, “Teddy, do you want me to text your family to let them know what’s going on?” They’re about to take him straight to the hospital. There’s no going to the locker room. So, I run in, grab his phone for him real quick so he can message the people he needs to message.
I still don’t know how bad his knee was, but I could tell by the look on his face he was very, very uncomfortable.
People were scared for him, too.
Newman: This was an amazing presence in the locker room. Not even talking about the football aspect of it — he was a good quarterback vying to become one of the household names — but you lose somebody who was a very quality individual in the locker room? That’s a big blow. You lose somebody who’s friendly to every single person in your locker room. I’ve never seen Teddy walk by somebody and not speak to them. No matter who they were. No matter what their status was on the team. He was somebody who could bridge any gap with people.
And that’s rare it seems. Especially at QB.
Newman: I think so. I’ve played with several quarterbacks — Dallas, Cincinnati — and Andy Dalton was the same way. A lot of them start reading press clippings and think their shit doesn’t stink. And they change. I did meet a couple. He was the complete opposite. He honestly had a bright light that shined.
There are so many What Ifs through the history of the Minnesota Vikings, back to Gary Anderson’s kick in ‘98 and Brett Favre’s pick in the ‘09 NFC Championship, but if Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t shatter his leg in that practice, what happens to him? And the team? I know Case Keenum took you guys to the NFC Championship in 2017 but, with where Teddy was at in his career, you wonder.
Newman: And not only what would’ve happened then, but what would’ve been happening now. Him getting hurt set off a chain of events that really put the team in a stressful situation. Especially with the salary cap. The last two years, it was hard for them to sign free agents because of the Cousins deal. They can’t openly shop for different pieces that they need because they don’t have the cash for it. And then you wonder, why did they let Case go? He helped get us there.
I guess the only way to describe it is as a Cinderella story. Relatively unknown. He had that reputation of being a tough guy who got the shit knocked out of him one game and got back into the huddle to keep playing. There are some things we did that I didn’t understand. I understand it’s a business but sometimes it’s not bad to develop these kids as well, instead of throwing money at people.
The “Miracle” is unbelievable. You’re one win away from hosting the Super Bowl. And everything fell apart against Philly. Maybe it’s not as painful when it’s a blowout like that?
Newman: It’s more painful when it’s a blowout. I’d rather lose a close game than get blown out in the NFC Championship. At least that means you showed up. You got dressed. You were prepared. The better team won. When you get blown out, it’s like, “What the hell happened?”
What the hell happened then?
Newman: Honestly, we were totally unprepared. We got outcoached. We got outplayed. Every aspect of it, we got outdone. The week before, the emotion everyone had after pulling out that win against New Orleans and then, two days later, we’re in full pads doing shit that— you’d think after the emotion everyone showed people definitely went out to celebrate after that game — that we would’ve taken it a little bit easy and got our legs back under us. All of that showed. Even before the game started, we had guys going, “Hey, you’ve got to wake up. Everybody wake up now.” You could see people were visibly still tired.
Zimmer had you guys in full pads two days after?
Newman: We had shoulder pads on.
Contact, though? Hitting?
Newman: Yeah. It wasn’t a scaled-back practice from what I remember. We had one practice that was a little slower-paced but, for the most part, we were out there like we were fighting for our lives. You’re trying to win. But you can’t sacrifice guys being healthy and being rested. It’s the end of the season. What are you going to teach a guy? You can’t teach the toughness part of it. That’s out the window at that point. Either you’re tough or you’re not.
So were guys worn out from the practices?
Newman: From the moment that game ended, there was a lot of excitement and a lot of emotion that went into that victory. And then the aftermath of it. Everybody’s in the locker room jumping up and down. That takes a lot of energy. It’s like guys in golf. A guy wins The Masters and they don’t play the next week. They’re like, “Man, I need to let body rest. It was such an emotional high that I’m just not ready to compete yet.” It was kind of the same thing. We weren’t supposed to win that game before they threw that seven route. Then, they connect. Diggs scores. I just think we spent a lot of energy celebrating that win as a team. Instead of just resting during the week. Doing our work but making sure we had our legs under us. I heard guys. We talked about it, like “I just don’t have my legs.”
A coach needs to know when to push and pull his team in general, too.
Newman: No question. We’re that far into the playoffs. What’s us wearing pads going to do? Yeah, they were a good team running the football. But we don’t need to put the shoulder pads on to get through all the fits. We still have to take care of each other.
Then, you did some coaching. Does any part of you still want to do that? Or was it “I tried it. No thanks?”
Newman: I enjoyed the teaching aspect. The part that really drove me to not wanting to coach was the part where you have to motivate kids to do work at home. Not play video games. Watch a little bit of film. That’s the part I didn’t like. I was responsible for the corners and the nickels. I had a kid who was a rookie and had all the talent in the world. I’d sit next to him in meetings and basically spoon-feed him. I’m in all the coaches’ meetings. I’m spoon-feeding him all the notes he needs — the routes he needs, everything he needs in terms of the defense part of it. I spent extra time with him. I would go in, watch film with him, show him the routes, show him the alignments. And I’d ask him to go home and write notes. Just write a couple of notes down on some of the stuff you see. Every day, he’d come in with no notebook and say, “Oh, I left it at home.” He’d have no notes. Once he left the facility, he wrote zero notes.
You basically saw Generation Z enter the NFL as you exited it. That’s what many players do right — video games, surf around on social media.
Newman: It’s a lack of accountability and enthusiasm. He wasn’t the only one, which was the bad part about it. So many guys were that way. As a coach, if my guys are playing good that reflects good on me. If they’re not playing well that reflects on me. So I put everything I had into it. I’d get into work at 5:30 in the morning. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t leave the facility until after 8 o’clock at night. I was like, “I’m not going to break my neck if these guys won’t do this little bit I ask from them.”
I’ve got to ask you one more. Six years ago, you told me to shave my head and it changed my life. Any more advice for people out there?
Newman: The only thing I have? Just be a good person. It doesn’t take much. Don’t be an asshole. Wake up in the morning, smile at people, say hi, that’s not that hard. We all can do our part to make the world a better place honestly.