Whoever's responsible, they sure know how to throw

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

Whoever's responsible, they sure know how to throw a party.

Newsome will be the fifth tight end inducted into the Hall on Saturday during ceremonies in Canton. Two days later, the Browns, Newsome's team during his entire 13-year career, will begin a new era in the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys.

For Newsome, the timing couldn't be better.

"It was worth the wait," he said. "There were disappointments in the first year, the second year, and the third year when I got into the final six and didn't make it. But to be going in at the same time those guys are going back out on the field, those orange helmets and football back on the lakefront. It was worth the wait."

Newsome was destined for stardom the first time he touched a football in an NFL game.

Taking the handoff on a reverse in his first pro game, Newsome, a rookie from Alabama, sprinted 33 yards into the end zone as the Cleveland Browns beat the San Francisco 49ers.

On Saturday, more than two decades later, Newsome will cross football's ultimate goal line in Canton.

During his career, Newsome helped redefine the tight end position while earning the nickname "Wizard of Oz" for making improbable catches.

"I knew if I threw the ball anywhere near Ozzie, he was probably going to catch it," Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar said.

Newsome is part of a stellar Class of '99: linebacker Lawrence Taylor, running back Eric Dickerson, and guards Tom Mack and Billy Shaw.

As tight ends go, Newsome, who played his entire career with the Browns, was in a class by himself.

Newsome's 662 career catches are the most ever at the position. He scored 47 TDs and racked up 7,980 receiving yards. He played in 197 consecutive games and had a streak of catching at least one pass in 150 straight games.

Before the emergence of Newsome and San Diego's Kellen Winslow in the late 1970s, tight ends were predominantly blockers who only got a chance to catch the ball when quarterbacks couldn't find anyone else open.

Newsome, a wide receiver at 'Bama, was moved to tight end by Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, who wanted to take advantage of Newsome's size _ 6-foot-2, 225 pounds _ and speed in matchups against linebackers.

"Sam said, 'We're going to throw you the football,"' Newsome said. "So I told him, 'If you throw it, I'll catch it.' He kept his end of the bargain and I kept mine."

Newsome had made a similar promise to his college coach, Bear Bryant, who preached to his players about respecting their opponent, and taught them never to showboat on the field.

"At Alabama, we were always taught to show our class," Newsome said. "And when you got into the end zone, act like you'd been there before."

Newsome momentarily forgot one of the Bear's credos when he scored that first TD for the Browns. He spiked the ball.

"I never did that again, and Monday morning I called coach Bryant and apologized," he said. "He hadn't realized I had done it. He just appreciated that I was thoughtful enough to call him and let him know I had come out of character."

A truer testament of Newsome's character came in 1989 when he was forced to the sideline with a minor injury against Houston. His consecutive game reception streak was at 150, and needing another catch to keep it alive, Newsome instead decided to stay out.

"I stopped it (the streak) on my own," he said. "I probably could have went back in and played, but I think that would have cheapened it. I think 150 was a good stopping point."

Newsome, now Baltimore's vice president of player personnel, is regarded by some Cleveland fans as a traitor for leaving with Art Modell when he took his team away in 1996.

Newsome, however, said he had no choice. To wait three years, he said, could have cost him a chance at advancing his career.

"Everybody is entitled to their own opinions," Newsome said. "If anything, I guess I'm guilty by association. With me, it was an opportunity as a minority to get one of the highest-ranking jobs in professional sports.

"I couldn't have stayed here for three years and done nothing and waited until the next team. I probably would have called (former coach) Marty Schottenheimer and got a tight end job in Kansas City or called Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. But I think it would have been worse for me if I came back as a Steeler."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.