Before quarterback Case Keenum took a knee on the extra-point attempt, officially sealing the Vikings’ shocking 29-24 NFC divisional victory against the Saints, players already were jumping, screaming and crying tears of joy in the locker room deep inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings players joined the jubilation of fans in the tens of thousands, high-fiving many of them on their path to the locker room through the Delta Sky360 Club. Quietly sitting at his locker was cornerback Terence Newman, who for the first time in his 15 NFL seasons will play in a conference championship game Sunday when the Vikings and Eagles vie for a Super Bowl berth in Philadelphia.
“He was just sitting down reflecting,” safety Anthony Harris recalled. “I went over and gave him a hug. He was just saying, out of all the years he’s been in the playoffs, he’s never been able to get past that hump. That was something he was able to accomplish and I was happy for him and happy to be a part of it. Told him we’re just going to try to keep this thing going.”
On Sunday, Newman will play his 231st career NFL game. While reflecting after the latest victory, he might have excavated deep into the memories of his previous seven postseason trips with Dallas, Cincinnati and Minnesota. He’s played for three division winners, including a No. 1 seed with the Cowboys in 2007, ending with only one playoff victory.
Newman doubled his playoff win total Sunday against the Saints, having only previously defeated the Eagles on Jan. 9, 2010, at Cowboys Stadium. Now the Eagles again stand in Newman’s way.
“It was awesome,” Newman said. “Words don’t really do it. But knowing we have a chance. That’s all anyone could ever ask for in anything in life — an opportunity, a chance to be great and do great things. We have a chance to do that.”
Newman, the veteran among Vikings veterans, wants his younger teammates to understand and appreciate the rarity of this chance. Coach Mike Zimmer conveyed that message in Wednesday’s team meeting.
“We’ve had great success, but it’s not always like this,” Newman said. “The sense of what it’s like in the NFL is a false sense right now. This is their rookie year [for some players] and they’re getting an opportunity to play in the NFC Championship Game, which I’ve never played in one before, and this is my 15th year.”
Vikings players want a victory in Philadelphia for many reasons, including for Newman, who along with Zimmer has often tasted the shortcomings of legacy-defining football.
Playoff failures rest in his statistics, but not necessarily at his feet. Newman’s presence on the Vikings’ No. 1-ranked defense is as a part-time player, but a full-time mentor and leader as the NFL’s elder cornerback.
“Since I got here, T-Newman has been on me since Day 1,” second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander said. “He’s obviously seen the talent and all the things that got me here and he wanted me to be a better person.
‘‘He’s always said you’ve had all the ability in the world, it was really just my thought process and the mental part of the game that I needed to grow from. I just listen to him and kept working and look where we are today.”
Players in his own locker room grew up watching Newman, recalling the 2003 NFL draft when he was the fifth overall pick out of Kansas State. Fifteen years later, those teammates tell stories of a fun-loving 39-year old who brings energy to meeting rooms when others who have played 200 fewer NFL games are dragging.
It doesn’t matter who you are or your rank — Rob Brzezinski, a 25-year NFL veteran and the Vikings’ vice president of football operations, or Harris, a special-teams cog for the Vikings — Newman will “scare the crap out of you.”
“There’s times we go in the meeting room, he’s hiding behind the curtains,” Harris said. “Somebody is walking, he pops out — “Ah!” And he’s laughing super hard and everybody over there is laughing and he gets behind the curtain again and waits for the next person.”
Said Newman: “A lot of guys used to always scare me and stuff. I’ve just kind of taken over, I guess. Nobody is ever really expecting it. You just walk in and all of a sudden somebody comes up and out of nowhere, scares the bejesus out of you. It’s kind of fun.”
For Newman, survival in the NFL means a meticulous approach to film study and nutrition, whether it’s food, supplements or his favorite red wine. For all the work he does helping younger teammates, he sometimes gets them into trouble.
Newman is known for jumping into the scout team offense, work typically reserved for the bottom of the roster, during practices.
“We kind of get yelled at a little bit because he’s hopping in there,” Harris said. “[We explain to coaches that] we were about to run the route, but [Newman] said he wanted to get some extra cardio in, so we let him hop in there.”
Newman’s drive at this age, he says, is “chasing the hot babe,” known to the masses as the Lombardi Trophy.
“The hot chick is an arm’s reach away,” Newman said, “She’s getting hotter by the moment.”
The Vikings want to put a Super Bowl ring on Newman’s finger.
“A guy like that, man, you want to keep striving, keep fighting, keep playing,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “You want to put him in a situation to end his career, if this season is his last season or if he keeps playing, you want a guy like that to get a ring so when he does call it quits, he can have a Super Bowl ring.”
Would this be his last hurrah?
“Only time will tell,” Newman said.