Terence Newman is 39, single, wealthy and healthy. He probably could think of a million things more enjoyable than the grind of NFL training camp.
To most players, training camp is a root canal without anesthesia. Camp is gridiron Groundhog Day. Every day is the same slog. A tiresome exercise that is equal parts necessary and dreadful.
So why on Earth did Newman, in sound mind, choose to be at TCO Performance Center on Saturday for the start of his 16th NFL training camp when he could have been somewhere sipping drinks with umbrellas with waves crashing in the background?
“I want to try to win a ring,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Newman admits he probably wouldn’t subject his body to another season of aches and pains if the Vikings weren’t legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Falling a game shy of the Super Bowl last season made his decision to return an easy call.
“In 15 years, last year was the first time I actually felt like we could win one,” he said. “We’ve got all the pieces still. Why not give it one last shot?”
In the NFL, there are veterans. And then there’s Newman.
He is the oldest defensive player in the league. He turns 40 on Sept. 4 — five days before the opener — which would make him only the second defensive back in NFL history to play at 40 years or older, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cornerback Darrell Green played until he was 42.
“I didn’t know that,” Newman said. “That’s pretty elite company. But what would mean more to me is to be able to win a championship.”
Newman won’t break Green’s record because he says this will be his final season. He has defied age and NFL logic long enough. He just hopes he has one productive season left in his tank.
“Father Time is undefeated,” he said. “That’s the other reason why I know this will be my last year. The talent is getting better and I’m going the opposite way. You’ve got to know when to call it quits.”
One can count the average length of an NFL career on one hand. Players dream of needing two hands to measure their career longevity. Newman’s career requires four hands.
“I can’t imagine 16 years because it’s so much more than seven years,” safety Harrison Smith said, noting the gap in their experience.
Defensive end Everson Griffen has an interesting theory about Newman’s staying power.
“He has no kids and he’s not married,” Griffen said, smiling. “People who have a wife and kids know exactly what that means.”
Actually, Newman didn’t disagree.
“It makes it easier for sure,” he said. “When you have a family, the older your kids would get, the more responsibility you’d have to have as a parent. Not putting all that onus on your wife.”
Mike Zimmer loves Newman for many reasons, but the Vikings coach also noted that training camp today bears little resemblance to training camp of yesteryear, or even compared to Newman’s first season, 2003.
“Not in pads every day tackling and hitting,” Zimmer said.
Newman’s history with Zimmer — “I’ve been with Zim forever,” he said — presumably makes his roster spot safe, even though he’s playing for the veteran’s minimum with no guaranteed money.
Newman provides a security blanket in the secondary. He can play outside cornerback, slot/nickel and safety, and he knows Zimmer’s system better than anyone on the roster.
He’s also a valuable resource for the young cornerbacks, especially rookie first-rounder Mike Hughes, who should attach himself to Newman’s hip and soak up as much knowledge as possible.
Newman relishes the mentor role. He is not threatened by youngsters competing for his playing time.
“Whether I make the team or not, I’m going to help the guys that ask me for help,” he said.
Father Time hasn’t pushed him out of the league yet. Not even the grind of training camp made him consider retirement. Leaving without another crack at a championship just didn’t sound appealing.
“That close [last season], why quit right there?” he asked. “It makes no sense.”