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67 Days ‘Til Alabama Football: Ozzie Newsome — “the greatest end in Alabama history”

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Don’t take our word for it, ask his coach

Ozzie Newsome
Man, action photos in the 60s and 70s were rough.

It would be harder to find a skills player that more embodied Alabama under Paul Bryant than Ozzie Newsome.

The Wizard of Oz was tough — he started all four seasons at Alabama and didn’t miss a game in his 198-game, 13-year Hall of Fame pro career. He was a hard-working local guy — a farm kid from Colbert County who juggled school, working in the fields, being a three-sport star, and working at his dad’s restaurant before and after school.

He was versatile: He had the size of a tight end and the skills of a wide receiver. We think of guys like O.J. Howard as a new development at the position. But, that kind of player is really taking us back to the future -- the Wizard was the innovator.

Said Bryant, “Ozzie was the best I ever coached. Not only was he a great receiver, but he had exceptional concentration, fine speed, and great hands.” In high school, Ozzie played baseball, basketball, and football — he was a high school All-American in basketball and football. He was a two-way player, ringing bells from his linebacker and safety spots as well as killing them in the passing game.

And, above all, he made the most of his opportunities.

When given a scholarship at Alabama, he proceeded to be a four-year starter. He set an SEC record with 20.3 yards per catch over a career. He racked up 102 catches and 16 touchdowns in Alabama’s wishbone offense. He mastered the comeback route in heavy traffic, weaving his way through contact and making tough catches against the grain of the defense. He was a two-time All-SEC performer and a consensus All-American. His 2070 yards receiving for a career stood for 30 years — DJ Hall would not break it until 2007.

At Cleveland, coach Sam Rutigliano told Ozzie “You can be a fine receiver in this league for a few years. But, if you move to tight end, you can be a great tight end for a long time.” And he was. By the time Newsome’s career was over, he had amassed unreal numbers for a tight end: 662 receptions and 7,980 yards, both Cleveland franchise records. He had 47 touchdowns, fifth all-time in NFL history. He set a franchise record for yards in a game (191) that was not topped until 2013. He was a five-time all-pro, he made three pro bowls, was named to the All-Time 100 NFL players, and was an NFL selection for the all-time team of the 80s.

And none of those accolades even touch on his community service work, which was so prolific that he was named the NFL’s Whizzer White Man of the Year in 1989.

NFL All-Time Tight Ends

NFL Films All-Time 100 Players (No. 73)

When Number 82 hung up the cleats after the 1990 season, his second career had just begun. Ozzie immediately began a front-office career with his beloved Browns, starting from the bottom in 1991. Over the next decade with Cleveland/Baltimore, Newsome would diligently work his way up the corporate ladder as one of the NFL’s first black executives. And, in 2002, a new chapter began for the Ravens, for the NFL and for Newsome — he became the first black General Manager in NFL history.

While Newsome never won a Lombardi Trophy with the hapless Browns, he orchestrated two Super Bowl champions as an executive with the Ravens.

In 1994 Newsome was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame. His bust was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999.

We’re going to need another Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement. It’s not that he is one of the greatest players in college football and NFL history — it’s that he may be one of the most accomplished Alabama graduates in the last half century. Period.

As for 67?

Perhaps the most amazing stat is that despite being a 4-year starter in Tuscaloosa — setting records for receptions and yards — his career-long catch for the Crimson Tide was just 67 yards (on a touchdown strike from Jeff Rutledge against Louisville in 1977.) And, despite that career spanning two-decades, he only ever had one longer.

All of the yards and catches and touchdowns Ozzie rang up came like everything else did in his career — he earned them with hard work.

67 days ‘til Alabama football.

Roll Tide.