The people Nate Newton once knew still run from him. He will encounter them in an airport sometime or see them on the street or get a glimpse of them across a crowded restaurant as they hurry to gather their possessions and head for the exit. If his eyes somehow make contact with their eyes, he will see a fear that embarrasses him. Was he really that bad? Yes, he was. The legacy of a bully is hard to shake.
"I was terrible," he says.
"I was the worst," he says.
"If you were having a party and I wasn't invited?" he says. "I would walk inside and shut that #@%%$#@ down. Just shut it down. I was very good at shutting a party down."
Newton is the 6'3", 335-pound offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys. He is 32 years old and recently signed a contract for $3.46 million that will keep him with the Cowboys for the next three seasons. Across the country he is perceived as some kind of enormous, lovable Chia Pet, a big huggy-bear of a man in the NFL's cast of cartoon characters. Two consecutive Super Bowls and two consecutive Pro Bowls and the unabashed "Whoaaaaaa!" and "Heyyyyyyyy!" of John Madden have lifted Newton above the anonymity of the offensive line. For five straight years—two at tackle, three at guard—he has been named to the All-Madden Team, an honor earned by get-dirty football traditionalists who seem to enjoy their work. Newton is a big, strong man, as quotable and profane as an MTV comedian as he recounts his battles with a body that has weighed between 297 and 400-plus pounds during his 10-year professional career.
Nate Newton? A bully? The idea that he could be anything but this roly-poly, happy warrior is a surprise. "There's a woman who can tell you about me," he says. "Her name is Pam Oliver, and she's a reporter on ESPN. She went to college with me at Florida A&M. She was the girlfriend of my best friend, Tony Hayes. Two years ago we played a preseason game in Tokyo, and she showed up. I hadn't seen her since college, and there she was. I smiled and started to say hello. I just saw her eyes go real wide. I could see she wanted to run away. I said, 'Pam, wait, I'm not like that anymore. Really, I'm a different guy.' "
Was he really that bad?
"Nate Newton," Oliver says, "was a monster."
His base of operations on the Florida A&M campus in Tallahassee was a street called the Set. Every campus has a similar place, where everyone hangs around to see and be seen. This place was near the dining hall and en route to the women's dorms, and it drew its name from the fact that everyone approached it with a Hollywood attitude. Newton's attitude came from action movies. He was Jaws, the oversized James Bond villain.
"He was the biggest guy on campus, first of all," says Hayes, now a Dallas policeman. "Second, this was before guys shaved their heads. Nate's head was shaved. Third, he always wore shorts. It could be the coldest day of the year, and he'd be wearing shorts and these businessman's hard-soled shoes and these long black businessman's socks. He was something to see."