KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs will face an enduring testament to desire when Minnesota Vikings cornerback Terence Newman takes the field Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Newman, who is in his 13th season, has withstood time since entering the league in 2003 out of Kansas State as a first-round pick (fifth overall) with the Dallas Cowboys.
The average career span for an NFL player is 3.5 years, the NFL Players Association confirmed in an email.
“I actually never set a goal for how long I’d play,” Newman said in a telephone interview. “I’ve never really given it thought. I never really thought about being in the league for 13 years.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows how special Newman is from personally observing the cornerback’s career, and he offered insight during a conference call on how Newman sustains performance.
“Well, he’s a Kansas Stater,” said Zimmer, who also coached Newman in Dallas and Cincinnati. “But really, he’s a great kid. He’s always played really good for me. He’s got excellent quickness, he was a sprinter in college and he hasn’t lost any of that.”
The 5-10, 197-pound Newman left K-State as one of the most-decorated defensive players in school history.
His long list of accomplishments include the Thorpe Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top defensive back; a consensus All-America selection; first-team All-Big 12 and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Newman is also one of 14 players immortalized in the K-State Football Ring of Honor.
There is more to the Vikings cornerback than just his alma mater, of course.
Newman, a native of Salina, Kan., is a two-time Pro Bowl selection with 760 tackles (654 solo) and 37 interceptions over his career, where he has appeared in 178 games (176 starts) with the Cowboys (2003-11), Cincinnati Bengals (2012-14) and Vikings.
The 37-year-old offers no hint of slowing down, and that leaves an indelible impression.
“He’s got good genes,” Zimmer said. “It’s not usual for DBs to play as long as he has, but there have been some. (Washington cornerback) Darrell Green played for a long time, (Oakland Raiders safety) Charles Woodson has played a long time, and there’s some other guys playing and Terence came out of college a little bit late.”
Newman’s current run compares favorably to Green, who played 20 years in the NFL and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Woodson, who is his 18th season. Former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey spent 15 years in the league.
But Newman isn’t keeping a running tracker on how long he intends to play.
“I never put a timeframe on it,” he said. “I still haven’t.”
Newman has the respect of the Chiefs, including cornerback Sean Smith, who is in his seventh season.
“To play that long is ridiculous, an amazing thing to do,” Smith said of Newman’s 13 seasons. “But when you watch him, he’s always been consistent and that’s one thing about cornerback is consistency, regardless of how old or young you are. You have to be able to go out there and be accountable. The coaches have to be able to trust you out there, and that’s something he’s done for a very long time.”
Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson agreed, while offering Newman praise.
“Congratulations to him,” Pederson said. “That’s a tremendous career, first of all. He’s a great corner. He’s a smart guy. He’s a guy who knows his scheme, knows how to use that scheme to his advantage and that comes from his expertise, comes from film study, the way he prepares and he’s got good speed.”
Chiefs rookie cornerback Steven Nelson said he studied Newman while growing up through his college years to gain insight on how to play the cornerback position, including when Newman lined up against the slot receiver.
“I studied all his stuff and watching him play the nickel back position, which I play,” Nelson said. “And just seeing how he’s been going about his career, it’s really exciting to watch that.”
Sunday’s matchup between the Chiefs and Vikings allows some within the Chiefs organization to renew acquaintances with Newman.
And it offers a sense of rivalry based on NFL careers and time spent in the NFC East.
Pederson was a backup quarterback with the Green Bay Packers in 2004 when the Packers played the Cowboys, and then served on the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff from 2009 to 2012.
Those periods allowed Pederson an opportunity to become very familiar with Newman, and Pederson came away amazed on what he currently sees on tape.
“It’s the same guy we saw then that we’re seeing now,” Pederson said, “probably just a little smarter today.”
Chiefs wide receiver Jason Avant, who played for the Eagles from 2006 to 2011, smiled when recalling the battles against Newman as NFL East rivals.
“He covered me every time,” Avant said. “He would play on the outside, and then he would go to the slot.”
Avant said the area that stands out the most to him surrounded Newman’s deceiving strength when pressed at the line of scrimmage.
“He used to guard me in the slot and he was really strong,” Avant said. “I just remember him in Cover 4. It used to be a hard matchup because they would carry him in Cover 4, meaning that he would play man coverage with a little bit of inside technique. I just remember his strength. He’s not just a little guy, he can play. I just always respected him. He’s been one of the better players in this league for a long time.”
The respect between wide receiver and cornerback is mutual.
Newman said what stood out about Avant was the wide receiver’s willingness to do the “dirty work” at the line of scrimmage, such as chipping defensive ends, before running routes.
“There aren’t a lot of receivers that would relish that job, but he did it with open arms and he caught a lot of balls,” Newman said. “I think he was one of the most valuable guys to have on that team because of the things he did.”
Newman won’t discuss retirement anytime soon because he still possesses a deep love of the game.
Moreover, he has a lot to offer as a veteran leader with the Vikings and has become a mentor.
“The thing that’s helping out even more now is his knowledge, especially for some of these young secondary guys that we have,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s teaching them how to study, how to prepare. He’s obviously a great kid.”
To no surprise, Newman’s team-first approach and desire can be traced to lessons learned from K-State coach Bill Snyder.
Newman carried those experiences throughout his NFL career and continues to apply them today.
“It was just the way he commanded a team and went about it every day, such amazing paying attention to detail and just going out and working,” Newman said of Snyder. “That was something we always did and no matter what, you can’t complain because you’re going to be out there. He always had amazing detail and that was one of the things that I think helped me along the way and has helped me make it this long.”
Newman has an immense gratification of how he has sustained playing at a high level over 13 years in the NFL.
He has seen a lot in his career, and the subject of running into former Wildcats in the league truly radiates pride in his voice through the other end of the telephone.
“It’s a testament to what Coach Snyder has done and what he’s instilled in players that we’re getting a chance to play in the league,” Newman said. “I’ve played against some, played with some, it’s always cool when you get a chance to see a guy you played with in college. You may not even know the guys, but you have a common denominator. You’ll always have that respect because you went to the same University.”
In the meantime, Newman understands he can’t play football forever.
There are numerous factors, regardless of age, that go into the enjoyment of playing, including dealing with weekly preparation and the willingness to put the body through physical punishment, among others.
While Newman continues to thrive, he will know when it is time to hang up the cleats.
“When the light burns out, that means you’re not having fun,” Newman said. “Obviously, the body, you need the body to play, so one of those two things will go out and that’s the time. You’ll know it when it happens. When one of those happens, you won’t see me anymore.”
And when the moment occurs, don’t be surprised if Newman chooses to return to where his incredible career started at K-State.
“Most definitely,” Newman said. “It’s good to be back there and I can’t wait to get back there. Maybe I’ll go coach for Coach Snyder one of these days.”