"I like riding the bike," he says now. it's the best exercise for me, especially because it keeps the weight off my knees. You should see me out there. I bought the $2,000 bike. I have the helmet. I have the Spandex shorts. I have those funny little shoes that fit in the pedals. The only thing that gels to me is that tiny little seat. You know what I mean? If I get by that, in two years I'll be ready for that *&$$##@ Greg LeMond."
(He can be a real panic.)
"I tell kids that when they leave the house, they're either going to do good or do bad," he says. "I tell them that whatever they do, to do it because it's their own idea. Don't be good or bad because somebody else leads you. Be good or bad because it's your own choice."
(He can also be something of a seat-of-the-pants philosopher.)
"I had 14 pit bulls in a pen behind my house until a few months ago," he says. "I got rid of them because I wanted to be ready to move if I went to some other city as a free agent. I didn't want to have to worry about the dogs. I had two fences, a wooden fence and a chain-link fence, so they weren't a danger to anyone. If someone got through those fences, his biggest problem wouldn't have been with the dogs—it would have been with me."
(He can bring back just a little bit of the old intimidation every now and then.)
Twelve years have passed since A&M and the Set, and for Newton those years have been an upward, successful march. Undrafted by the NFL, cut as a free agent in 1983 by the Washington Redskins, injured in a serious car accident the night he was cut, he landed in the now defunct USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits, for whom he played for two years. He signed with the Cowboys in 1986 and for a while was treated as an overweight curiosity. His nickname was the Kitchen (bigger than the Fridge, get it?), and he had to endure all the fat jokes and the fat pictures in the newspaper articles, which he has carefully saved in a scrapbook.
His breakout came with the arrival of Jimmy Johnson as the Dallas coach in 1989. Johnson didn't care what a player looked like or sounded like or smelled like as long as the player could play the game. That fit fine with Newton. He was always one of the team's strongest players though he had lost weight and gained weight and lost weight and gained weight by following an assortment of plans in search of his best weight (about 335). Then three years ago he discovered the bicycles and off-season trainer Mike Spotts in Orlando. This was the regimen that has worked best of all. He has made himself what he is, traveling from fat-man joke to Pro Bowl starter. A stiffening of league steroid rules has been an obvious help; football has again become a game of naturally huge men.
"You look around the league now, and every team has one of me—every team with a good offensive line, at least," Newton says. "I started out as this big fat guy all by myself, and it turns out I was the *&%%#@ prototype."
"Look at our draft," Dallas offensive line coach Hudson Houck says. "The two offensive linemen we drafted are bigger than Nate. He has fit very well with our offense, where we rely on area or one-on-one blocking. Not that there's anything wrong with him pulling, either. He's just an extremely powerful man who understands this game and loves to compete."