Pot-bellied Cowboy

You want a tearjerker tale of remorse, rehabilitation and repentance behind bars?

Not from Nate Newton.

"I didn't find God in prison," he says. "All I found was hatred and the devil and dudes scheming up better ways to break the law."

You expect a sappy apology for cutting off friends and family in favor of illegal drug trafficking?

Not from Nate Newton.

"If I got caught, I didn't want there to be no connections to my people," he says. "You're either going to heaven or hell, there's no in between. I'm going to heaven now, but at the time I was going to hell full-speed. That's just the way I do things, all the way. If I was a killer, I'd take 'em all out. Everybody. Not just one or two."

You seek a logical explanation for how a guy got busted for transporting hundreds of pounds of pot, twice in five weeks?

Not from Nate Newton.

"I thought I was invincible," he says. "Like nobody could touch me."

After 14 years in the pros and 32 months in the pen, Nate Newton still doesn't fit the mold. In his first interview with a print outlet since being released from prison, he was as subtle as a bulldozer--zero percent sugarcoat, 100 percent straight shit.

"In the NFL, I lived on two and a half hours' sleep," he says. "It caught up to me, but that's the way I rolled: butt-naked booty bumpin'."

Though a free man after leaving Louisiana's Avoyelles State Prison a year ago, the popular ex-Cowboy has kept a skinny profile. He's whispered his story only to K104-FM's morning show, a talk show at Hooters hosted by Cowboys radio voice Wally Lynn, KFCD 990 AM afternoon host Mike Fisher and, on November 3, your friendly Dallas Observer.

Wearing shorts, a gray Reebok T-shirt and 373 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame, Nate appeared great. But he also bore the scars of being a toter, if not a toker.

"I don't even like pot," he said. "It just makes me hon-gree. If I smoked out, I'd weigh 800 pounds."

One of his era's most dominant offensive linemen, Newton earned three Super Bowl rings, six Pro Bowl trips and the common man's adoration because of his fluctuating weight and jagged yet jocular sound bites. He also suited up for the enemy--playing the decadent deliveryman who paved the way for dealers to peddle dope to your city...and your kids.

"I'm not gonna lie," he said. "I was that guy."

It was laziness, greed and a rough circle of friends met at illegal dog fights that lured Nate into drug trafficking after he retired in '99. His scheme was simple: "Invest" $10,000, drive from Dallas to wherever there was demand for his supply, deliver pot in cardboard boxes and get handed $30,000.

"It didn't seem like easy money, it was easy money," said Newton, whose last Cowboys contract paid him $700,000 in '98. "I wasn't broke. It just seemed too good to pass up."

Nate's fantasy got bitch-slapped on November 4, 2001, when, after countless successful runs over a year, he and two women were stopped by Louisiana state troopers on Interstate 10 in St. Martin Parish. In his white van, police found 213 pounds--not ounces, pounds--of marijuana. Undaunted, Nate kept trippin'. Out on bail, he was stopped along Interstate 45 in Ellis County by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents on December 12. In his red F-150 truck, officials found $10,000 in cash and 175 pounds of pot with a street value of $700,000.

Nate's playing weight in 1991: 368. Nate's pot weight in 2001: 388.

"It was police profiling, but it's not bad luck when you're planning to do wrong and you get caught," he said. "That's just stupidity. And even after that I was still thinking about making another run."

Luckily, he never got the chance.

"By the grace of God, I got busted before it was too late," he said.

A judge denied Newton bail, and he sat in the Seagoville Detention Center for eight months awaiting trial. After initially pleading not guilty, he eventually showed up in court wearing ankle chains and accepted a plea bargain down to one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. In August '02, he was sentenced to 32 months in prison and fined $25,000.

In Seagoville, Nate was a star who signed autographs and a kingpin inmate who traded cigarettes for Twinkies.

Said Nate, "Because I didn't smoke, I was the man."

But when he began serving his sentence at the federal correctional institute in Texarkana in October '02, Nate dissolved from uniform No. 61 into inmate No. XXXL. He slept on a metal bunk and shared slop with inmates like former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales and the father of Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson.

There were few familiar faces, though. Nate eventually declined visits from former teammate Deion Sanders, former coach Barry Switzer and even from his father, Nate Sr.

"I couldn't take it, man," he said. "When I'd see them walking away and I had to stay behind the white line and watch that door slam, shit, that's when you know straight up you're a convict. I couldn't stand to see them leave, so I just told them to stop showing up."

Nate served his final six months in Louisiana--sleeping on a concrete slab in a cell with 40 prisoners and one toilet.

"They don't play around at that joint," he said. "I don't even like to think about that place."

Thanks more to his intimidating size than his jovial disposition, Nate survived. He was released November 9, 2004, free to join life two and a half years behind and a club whose members include Mike Tyson, Martha Stewart and Jamal Lewis.

"Prison doesn't help you, unless you help yourself," Nate said. "A week after I got out I got straight with myself and God. I apologized to my family, and I promised myself I'd never go back to prison."

A year into freedom, Nate seems content with his cautious comeback.

Remarried and living in Wylie, the 43-year-old Newton spends his days working as a regional coordinator for O-D Sports football camp. (Oh yeah, he also drives--swear--a Volkswagen Golf. Profile this!) Friday nights he watches his oldest son, Nathaniel III, play football for top-ranked Southlake Carroll High School, and Sundays are still reserved for the Cowboys.

He's spoken to Tulane University's football team, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and to Cowboys rookies at Valley Ranch. But as of now there are no book deals, no Hollywood scripts, no TV jobs, no coaching doors swinging open.

You expect a fairy-tale ending?

Not from Nate Newton.

"Good things are going to happen for me. But right now it's just time to sit back and laugh at folks," he said. "Mostly, at myself."

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt