Gold Jacket Spotlight: Ozzie Newsome ‘a real gem’

OZZIE NEWSOME once described himself as a “tweener” while recalling his departure from college football for the NFL.

“I was too small to play tight end,” he said, “(and) too slow to play wide receiver.”

Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano saw the potential for Ozzie, one of the team’s first-round picks of the 1978 NFL Draft.

“You can be a good wide receiver in this league for a few years,” he told the former University of Alabama standout. “But if you move to tight end, you can be a great tight end for a long time.”

Not only was Rutigliano’s perception correct, but it also might have been a bit understated. Ozzie developed into a Pro Football Hall of Fame-caliber tight end who this week is featured in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Nicknamed “The Wizard of Oz,” according to Ray Yannucci of the Akron Beacon Journal “for his sensational leaping, diving catches,” Ozzie often sang the praises of his experiences at Alabama and credited legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant with his development and ability to be successful in meeting and surmounting challenges.

“He was a motivator and expected the most out of everybody under him,” Ozzie said of Bryant in a 1983 Browns News/Illustrated story. “On the field and off, he always wanted you to give the best you had. What he had me do was believe in myself and go out and take it one step more than I thought I could do.”

Bryant, in turn, described Ozzie as, “the greatest end in Alabama history, including Don Hutson. He has exceptional concentration, fine speed and great hands. He’s a total team player — a fine blocker and an outstanding leader.”

“Leader” and other positive descriptors of character were used consistently when teammates and coaches discussed Ozzie.

“Ozzie is a diamond, and I don’t mean a diamond in the rough. He’s beyond that,” former Browns receiver coach Rich Kotite told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “He’s a gem, a real gem.”

Kotite continued: “Another thing I like so much about Ozzie is his ego. He has none. He doesn’t know how good he is. I’ve never coached a guy who is more unselfish than Ozzie Newsome.”

Marty Schottenheimer, the Browns’ head coach from 1984 to 1988, noted, “He’s obviously going to be in the Hall of Fame as a player, but if they had a Hall of Fame for people, he’s gonna be in that as well. Ozzie is as fine a person as I’ve ever known.”

Clay Matthews, also selected by the Browns in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft, declared, “I think (Newsome) has shown a lot of leadership over the years, and it’s not necessarily by talking. It is by his work ethic, always working on his conditioning. He does all the right things.”

Ozzie’s NFL playing career spanned three decades (1978-1990), all as a member of the Browns. During those 13 seasons, he accounted for 662 receptions and 7,980 receiving yards. Additionally, he accumulated a streak of 150 consecutive games with a reception. The “Wizard of Oz” was selected to three Pro Bowls and as the second-team tight end on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

Enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame came in 1999.

Based on his “team first” reputation, it is not surprising Ozzie told USA Today’s Ken Myers, “I’d give up all the personal records in a minute for a Super Bowl ring.”

When Bill Belichick was Cleveland’s head coach and Ozzie was working in the Browns’ front office after retiring from playing, Belichick told Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer: “He’s a great person – a better person than he was a player, and he was a great player.”

Indeed, a real gem.