Mind Over Body: Playing in the N.F.L. at 38


Newman takes an iconoclastic approach to his wellness. For one thing, he does not use a nutritionist. In maintaining his muscular 195 pounds, the 5-foot-10 Newman does not deprive himself — at the steakhouse, he ordered lamb chops and a Caesar salad with anchovies — but he rarely indulges.

With few exceptions, he limits his movement between team headquarters, where he eats a smart breakfast (hard-boiled eggs without the yolk, half a waffle, oatmeal with berries) and lunch, and his apartment, which is near a tangle of food options. He orders the same food at the same restaurants on the same night (crab leg Wednesdays!). At the Japanese place where he dines on Thursdays, he sits at the same seat, on the far edge of the bar, to await what the bartender calls Newman’s usual: a teriyaki chicken bowl (sauce on the side) and a lava roll (shrimp tempura and avocado topped with yellowfin tuna and sauce) complemented by a healthy pour of pinot noir.

“I try to pay attention to some of the stuff that I put in my body now that I’m older,” said Newman, who also takes multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and supplements promoting joint and adrenal-gland health. “I don’t know if my metabolism is going to get superslow. But I’ve still got abs and stuff. How many almost-40-year-olds have abs?”

Newman has never tested positive under the league’s performance-enhancing-drug policy and is so fastidious about what he puts in his body that he does not understand how players get caught.

“You have all the tools to find out what’s good and what’s bad; you got an app to tell you all that,” he said, adding, “It’s simple.”

In the off-season, he does not follow the team’s strength and conditioning program and for the past few years has not even worked out regularly with a trainer. He enjoys the spontaneity of tapping thoughts into his phone at breakfast and then amending the plan, if necessary, at the LA Fitness he visits five minutes from his off-season residence in Dallas.

“I’ve worked out all my life, so I’ve learned all this free information,” Newman said. “I know I need to do whatever they ask after a certain period of time, so I work on the things I feel like I need to work on.”

His goal, when he was younger, was just “to get big.” He realized the fallacy of that strategy when a misdiagnosed knee injury in his second N.F.L. season affected his strength and mobility for several years, even if it took until his fifth season for him to miss a game. He loves doing squats, and his former Bengals teammate Leon Hall, who is now with the Giants, said he rued that he would always have to remove weight plates if he bench-pressed after Newman. But Newman concentrates on working the smaller, stabilizing muscles around his joints.

Photo

At Kansas State, Newman, center, beat Texas’ Tre Gardner, right, and Texas A&M’s Adam Wooten, left, to win the 100 meters at the 2002 Big 12 track and field championships in Columbia, Mo.

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L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

A former champion sprinter at Kansas State, Newman now runs as fast as he needs to. The winner of the shuttle drill, which evaluates lateral movement and change-of-direction skills, at the 2003 scouting combine, Newman now is as quick as he needs to be.

He will never regain those attributes. But in the spring and summer, he wards off regression with two-hour pickup basketball games, three times a week, against former N.B.A. and college players, a cardiovascular workout that he modifies to fulfill his needs. Newman reaps no physical benefits from scoring. He channels his energy into suffocating defense. He guards the opposition’s best offensive player.

“They understand why I’m there,” Newman said.

To work on quickness, many cornerbacks set up cones every 5 yards and then backpedal and break, again and again. That drill is popular, Newman said, but not functional.

“That’s not reactive,” Newman said. “Our sport is 100 percent reactive.”

He continued: “I do the same things, just in a different way. In football, you turn and you reach out with your hand, use your arms, but in basketball you can’t do that; you use all feet. You pick up a guy full court, you shuffle back, and then you’re breaking, turning and opening and cutting him off, trying to stay in front. If he gets by, you’ve got to cut him off and take the right angles. It’s literally the same thing as a corner.”

As he has gotten older, Newman has not dedicated additional time to recovery. But he has a standing appointment with the Vikings’ contracted acupuncturist, Hilary Patzer, on Tuesday mornings even though he hates needles — or rather, he hated them until Patzer treated his tight back.

“I thought she was a witch at first, from Salem,” Newman said, laughing. “But I’ve never looked back.”

Newman considers this hour, which also includes the ancient Chinese healing method known as cupping, a vital part of his weekly recovery. Depending on how much hitting he did in the previous game, pain often does not set in until Wednesday, when practice resumes. It usually dissipates by Thursday.

“Out of nowhere, I’ll feel like I’m 26 again,” Newman said.

He devotes part of his afternoon a few days a week to napping, this on top of the eight hours of sleep — up at 7:20 a.m., in bed by 11 p.m. — he makes sure he gets. Instead of braving rush-hour traffic, he remains at the complex an extra 30 to 45 minutes, sitting in the massage chair or donning compression boots to facilitate leg circulation.

When he returns the next day, he invariably hears some younger teammates talking about their aches. And this is what he tells them: “You’re walking around like I’m supposed to be walking around. You feel like I’m supposed to feel.”

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