It's happened to you, perhaps more than once, possibly more than once in a day. You sit back, relax, mind wandering, suddenly finding yourself thinking to the past. What happened that got you to where you are at this instant? What has made you who you are today? To some, it's lamenting, others, waxing nostalgic and still more, simply being introspective. Bob Newton did that and to an extent, still does and there's so much he has had to ponder.
In two years n(‘69 & ‘70) at Nebraska, Bob Newton wasted no time in prevailing himself onto the local scene as it were. From his achievements on the field to his (and his teammates) actions off, Newton was like any football player back then, just enjoying life.
You have to keep something in mind though and that is the year or in this case, era all this took place. It wasn't so much the hay day of football players having that "extra" bit of fun, but the media wasn't what it is now.
Given that, players were less scrutinized, less publicized and yes, less punished for shall we say, "extracurricular" activities. Let's put it a little better than that. Pick a football team, practically any one of them from that era, if the publicity was then what it is now, everyone of them would be fighting for SportsCenter highlights every day and not towards the positive.
That's the way it was though. It wasn't "Dodge City", but people just didn't pay that much attention to it and to a degree, didn't care. The age of "political correctness" wasn't upon us, forcing reactions to every little thing. "If I did now the things I did back then, it would have been in every major paper, USA Today and on Sportscenter, the way the exposure is nowadays." Bob Newton said. "Our team, well, things were different back then."
As you hear some of the older local fans talk about it, it's with a slight grin, a brief shake of the head, even they realizing just how different things have become.
That freedom though, those times where things were taken with a definite grain of salt, for an instant, perhaps that moment of the event, the fun is realized and everyone chuckles to themselves. But, the price, the future, it has a funny way of making even the most enjoyable times seem like times you wish you had spent it doing something else.
Such can be said for Bob as he thinks back to a career at Nebraska with fondness, but even after being an All-American at Nebraska and after playing over a decade in the pros, there lies regret, regret that still burns inside him to this very day.
"I had a severe problem with alcohol when I was at Nebraska." Newton stated. Ok, I know what you are saying. ‘Yeah, and?'. Substance abuse is like anything that compels someone to do something they might not ordinarily do under "normal" circumstances. For athletes and addiction to alcohol and other chemical substances, this kind of problem develops innocently enough from something as simple as interaction with the team, but as it happened with Newton, the road finds itself twisting, turning, spiraling into a dead-end. The only question is when. For Newton, at Nebraska was where it only started to truly manifest itself, but it was masked by the force on the field he had become. "I had a lot of God-given ability." Bob said. "I had made All-American and I was projected as a mid-first-round pick in the NFL draft."
Would you say this is a "Riches to Rags" story, rather than the other way around? That depends. Mostly on your point of view. Bob was literally at the top of his game, perceived to be one of the best offensive tackles in the country and even then, he was still using, still abusing, daring that addiction to take this oft-timed troubled giant down.
It did just that.
"After the Sun Bowl, I went to the Senior Bowl." Bob said. "What it was, I was drinking a lot, using some other drugs, I wasn't sleeping well, eating right and my body fatigued on me and I hurt my back."
"I tried playing that Saturday anyway and I got demolished. I gave up 4 sacks in the first quarter on our quarterback, Dan Pastorini."
This wasn't the beginning of Bob's road downward, but it was certainly a step on the gas and even knowing that the player that got those sacks against him was the legendary, Jack Youngblood, that hardly makes Newton feel better about what happened, because it still makes him wonder what could have been. "I don't know if I could have blocked Jack that day even if I would have been well, but my chances would have been a lot better and my value went down significantly after that game. I went down to the third round, so financially, that cost me a lot of money."
It did cost him money and it did manage to knock his ego down, if but for a brief time. What it didn't do though was teach him a lesson he would have to inevitably learn the hard way. He was still Bob Newton and once he got into the NFL, despite all the abuses onto his body, he was still a potential star. "On my bubble gum card, on the back, the coaches said that ‘We feel Bob has the ability to be an All-Pro offensive guard. All he needs is the experience.'" he said.
Experience is what Bob would get as he spent over a decade more in football's toughest league. You would think that in a league where the average career is less than 9 years, any one would look back on over 10 years with absolute pride. Some do, but none of them was Bob Newton. "I still have that feeling of ‘what if"". Newton said. "I was stuck in denial and I wish my first year in Chicago, I would have been intervened on by someone telling me I needed some help. If I would have had that then, who knows what could have happened."
If you are not familiar with the circles of what intervention is in the world of addiction, simply stated, it's that moment where those that care about you confront you about your problems, forcing you to take a look at yourself and what you have become. If nobody does that, a person that is sliding down this staircase of depression will only sink lower, until they are either forced to stop, encounter an event significant enough to make them stop, or they are dead.
Bob found himself being grateful ironically enough to those that he had, had so many unwanted encounters before. "It was the legal authorities." Newton stated. "I kept getting D.U.I.s. I was looking at some serious prison time unless I got well. That scared me."
Enough that Newton found that the proverbial "bottom" that is talked about amongst circles of addiction, that was actually looking down at him. And, it wasn't just the law that had seen enough of Newton's abuse, his body was responding in kind. "My body was just breaking down." Newton said. "I got sober at 33 and my body had, had enough. It was a health issue as well."
Bob needed to quit, his body and the justice system demanded that he quit, but a person so large in stature admitted to himself, he simply couldn't do it alone. Newton entered a treatment center in 1983 and it was during that time when Bob found his way back, but as you would expect, he had some support, this time from a familiar face. "About the third or fourth day I was in that treatment center, I wrote coach Osborne a letter." Bob said. "I told him what had happened, that I had a drinking problem, I needed some help and I sent that to him."
"I got a letter back from him within a week and he said ‘Bob, you are doing the right thing' , he was very supportive and he offered me a graduate assistant position that following January. He just gave me a lot of support and I ended up going back to Nebraska, became a graduate assistant and completed my graduate degree."
If the road stopped here, this would have already been a success. From the fame of Husker football, to the glory of the professional arena, to the depths of despair, a body torn and tattered from a living on the field and finding a fast way to dying off of it, Bob had already prevailed.
Bob had learned too much though. Learned what it meant to be so high and then, so low in such a relatively short time. He had felt what it was like to not want to feel anything anymore. His role wouldn't be in the game he enjoyed and played so well, rather his future would be in helping those to avoid that life he regrettably chose to lead, but he didn't stray too far from his obvious roots. "I was a consultant to the Seattle Seahawks for 10 years regarding alcohol and drug use." Newton stated. "I've worked with high school athletes and college athletes, so it's been very rewarding for me."
Irony would seem to be a word here that you might use, but there's nothing ironic about helping people and Bob is doing just that as he is the Director of Business Development for the Betty Ford Center in Palm Desert, California. Though not officially involved in counseling anymore, Bob certainly didn't stray too far from what saved him in the end.
The end for Bob Newton has been just a continuance of a new beginning. Having lived the life of a sports "star" and known just how it feels when that star implodes, there is a perspective here that you get of not what Bob was, but what he went through to become the person he is now. It's a journey many travel every minute of every day, but we notice only when it's either someone famous or someone we hold dear.
Bob is an example of where those roads can lead as he is an example of where those roads could lead if something isn't done. In fact, Bob's life has been a virtual interstate, him taking one exit after another, but somehow, finding his way back. And so you ask, "where is he now?" and it almost belittles everything that Bob Newton was, because it's not about where he is, but who he is and none of it has to do with "now" or even "then", but everything that happened "in between".
"When I communicate to people, I don't want them to look back, having never reached their potential. I didn't want them to go through what I did and look back and ask what they could have been."
Bob still asks himself that now. "I've made my peace with it, but there will always be that "what if".
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619