MANKATO – Darren Woodson hasn’t forgotten the moment when he first realized Terence Newman wasn’t like many other players, certainly not his fellow rookies.
Dallas had underachieved in 2002, a lack of leadership contributing to that, giving the Cowboys and their defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, an opportunity to draft Newman out of Kansas State with the fifth overall pick in 2003.
Early in Newman’s rookie season, one of the other Dallas cornerbacks, a veteran, botched his assignment and got burned for a big play. When the Cowboys regrouped in the huddle, Newman, who had just turned 25, let the guy have it.
“He just went off,” Woodson, the former Pro Bowl safety, said in a phone interview Monday, adding that Newman used some choice language. “As a rookie, man. Most of the time when guys have a little something to say, I’d be like, ‘Calm down.’ But I just let him go.
“We ended up winning that game and I remember saying something to Zim about it: ‘This kid has got the fire in him.’ He loved that.”
A dozen years later, the fire inside Terence Newman still burns.
He turns 37 a few weeks from now and acknowledges he is nearing the end of his NFL career. But he sure as heck didn’t sign with the Vikings to just be a mentor. No, Newman linked up with Zimmer one last time because he believes that with the help of the Vikings coach, he can again play at a high level in what should be his 13th consecutive season as a starter.
“I know Zim and I know the defense, what he expects and what he asks for from his players,” Newman said. “I thought this team played pretty dang good last year.”
After an up-and-down 2014 season, his third with the Cincinnati Bengals, Newman signed a one-year deal with the Vikings for $2.45 million with $750,000 guaranteed. Other teams, including the New England Patriots, were also interested in him. But coming to Minnesota was a no-brainer because of Zimmer’s presence.
Newman’s two Pro Bowl seasons with the Cowboys came after Zimmer left Dallas, but Newman said he wouldn’t have gotten there without Zimmer’s coaching.
And then in 2012, after the Cowboys released Newman, it was Zimmer, then the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, who called Newman up and told him he had to have him.
“When you get cut by a team, it leaves a little bit of doubt in your mind,” Newman said. “For him to reach out and say, ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s do this,’ I had in my mind that I was going to make this right. I was going to make sure that him taking a chance by bringing me there was going to end up being a good decision.”
It was. Newman started 41 games over three seasons with the Bengals, fending off first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard for the right to start.
In his career, Newman has started 172 games. Charles Woodson is the only active defensive back who has started more. And Newman’s 37 career interceptions rank third behind Woodson and DeAngelo Hall.
On the course
Last week, Newman joked that good red wine was the key to his impressive longevity at a position that usually leaves aging players in the dust. But it also helps that he is a gym rat who takes excellent care of his body while also knowing the value of rest.
“I try to recharge when it’s time to recharge and get away from the game,” he said.
One way he does that is by hitting the links, where he is an 8-to-10 handicap.
His roommate at Kansas State, former NFL running back David Allen, used to watch golf. “I’d say, ‘Man, turn that off,’ ” Newman said. But some of his teammates in Dallas, most notably Cowboys quarterback and PGA pro-am regular Tony Romo, got him hooked on the sport.
“It’s kind of one of those things where you go out and you don’t have to rely on anybody else,” Newman said. “It’s just you and the golf ball and the golf ball doesn’t know who’s hitting it. You just have to steer it in the right direction. It’s a good way to mentally focus because it’s all mental.”
His smarts have served him well in the NFL. Sure, early in his career, his sprinter speed — he also starred in track at Kansas State — certainly helped him out. But even in his early days in Dallas, when the start of his career overlapped with the end of Darren Woodson’s fine one, Newman was one of the smartest, most self-aware players on the squad.
“He was mature beyond his years,” Woodson said. “He was always a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type of kid. And to this day, Terence Newman has always done the right thing on and off the field. He is the consummate pro. … I know Zimmer probably needs a guy like that in the locker room, especially for the young guys in that secondary.”
The road ahead
Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes already have talked about Newman’s positive influence on them. And first-round pick Trae Waynes, one of the players competing with Newman for a starting spot, will surely benefit from his wisdom, too.
But Newman wouldn’t be here right now if Zimmer didn’t think he could still play.
“Terence is a good player,” he said. “He’s an older player, but he’s a good player.”
Newman is at a point now where he won’t shy away from questions about life after football.
He has some business investments that he could dive deeper into when he retires. He has done broadcasting work and coaching could be an option.
He also wants to get married and have kids, something he decided to put off during his NFL career because he didn’t want to shortchange his family or miss any milestone moments, such as an anniversary with his wife or a child’s first steps or words.
But Newman will worry about all that once his career is done, whenever that may be.
For now, he is focused solely on rewarding Zimmer for his faith once again by helping this young Vikings team take the next step.
“I think this team is capable of playing some really good football,” Newman said.