ARLINGTON, Texas – It was a long time ago.
But Terence Newman still remembers arriving in Dallas after being drafted by the Cowboys in 2003.
"Just coming in," said Newman, now a 14-year veteran cornerback with the Cowboys' opponent this Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings. "Getting to meet a bunch of guys and realizing that my childhood dream had reached fruition. Everybody dreams of making it. Meeting Larry Allen and Woody [Darren Woodson] and a bunch of those guys, I watched them as a kid, so that's something that was pretty special."
The way Ezekiel Elliott has shattered the lofty expectations that come with being a top-five draft pick makes it easy to forget the kind of microscope a player of that caliber lives under. When the Cowboys drafted Newman out of Kansas State with the fifth overall pick it was Bill Parcells' first draft selection as the Cowboys' head coach. All eyes were certainly on the rookie cornerback.
Unlike Elliott, Newman played a position where you garner a lot more attention for your mistakes than you do for your strengths, and thus many Cowboys fans had a complicated perception of Newman's nine seasons in Dallas. To many NFL fans, a top-five draft pick is simply a "bust" until proven otherwise. This was never a remotely fair characterization of Newman, who made the Pro Bowl twice and recorded 32 interceptions as a Cowboy.
Of the top 10 selections from the 2003 draft, only Newman, Carson Palmer (the first overall pick), and Terrell Suggs (No. 10 overall) are still playing in the NFL.
Newman was 25 years old at the start of his first season, making him an "older" rookie. Thirteen years later he's the oldest starting cornerback in the NFL and has been keeping younger defensive backs from stealing his job for quite a few seasons now.
"Not many 37- or 38-year-old corners still playing," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Often times those guys move to safety five years earlier in their careers. But he still goes out there and plays outside and plays inside, and he looks like the same guy to me. [He] makes a lot of plays. He's a really good cover guy."
[embeddedad0]Newman credits his ability to be effective deep into his career with the veteran smarts that come with 14 seasons in the NFL.
"I'm not as quick as I used to be, but where I lack in pure speed and quickness I kind of try to make up for with the mental part of it," Newman said. "There comes a point in everybody's career where you're not going to have what you had when you came in, and the only way to pick up slack is to really become a student of the game."
That pure speed and quickness, though, is something the Cowboys organization is very familiar with from Newman, who was an All-American in track at Kansas State, and that level of athleticism translated almost immediately to playmaking in the NFL. Newman intercepted four passes his rookie season, three of which came in the same game against Washington. In his nine seasons as a Cowboy, he recorded at least four interceptions six times. In 2005 he didn't give up a touchdown all season while starting all 16 games.
But in 2010 nagging injuries began to effect his time with the Cowboys. Rib and groin injuries sidelined him and hampered his quickness for a time. In 2011, specifically, he failed to live up to the high standard that he had set for himself. The end result was Dallas' decision to release Newman, something that he has come to live with.
"I didn't play very well my last year [in Dallas]." Newman said this week. "That's why I'm not a member of the Cowboys anymore. I take ownership of that."
But Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator when Newman was drafted, had moved on to the same job in Cincinnati and apparently didn't buy into the idea that Newman's best days were behind him. Newman signed with Cincinnati and started for three seasons on a formidable Bengals' defense. When Zimmer was hired as Vikings head coach, Newman came along with him to Minnesota.
"I love going to meetings and watching film and listening to [Zimmer] talk," said Newman, who watches all the film a day early so that he is prepared for each meeting. "It's like I'm a rookie again. Because he's the one that I was in meetings with as a rookie. It's definitely still fun to me."
Newman's long career is no surprise to Garrett, who coached Newman at the tail end of his Dallas tenure.
"That has a lot to do with who he is as a person," Garrett said. "He really stayed at the top of his game for all these years."
For Newman, who still calls Dallas home, he continues to go through the rigors of an NFL season for a very specific reasons.
"I still have some tread on the tires," he said. "I don't play for money. I want a Super Bowl. For me, that's kind of the hot girl that you see, you try to talk to, and she doesn't really respond. She doesn't really want to have anything to do with you at this point. I'm still chasing her."