Ozzie Newsome Jr. (1956- ) was one of the greatest receivers in college and professional football and went on to become the first African American general manager and executive vice president of a National Football League (NFL) team. Newsome's stellar career has earned him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Newsome was born in Muscle Shoals, Colbert County, on March 16, 1956, to Ozzie and Ethel Newsome, the middle son among five siblings. Newsome began playing organized football in the eighth grade. At age 14, Newsome and his younger brother Thomas were selected for a youth baseball all-star team that won state and regional tournaments and advanced to a sectional tournament that included other southeastern states.
In 1971, Newsome's sophomore year at Colbert County High School, the team went 10-0 in the regular season before losing in the first round of the state playoffs. The following year, the Colbert County High team went 13-0 and won the Class 3A state title, with Newsome, playing wide receiver and defensive back, exhibiting signs of the big-play potential he would later show at the University of Alabama. He began to draw attention from college recruiters. Although he was initially more interested in baseball, Newsome later acknowledged that football became his favorite sport when he started receiving scholarship offers after his junior season. During his senior season in 1973, he helped the Colbert football team post an 8-2 record. He also played forward on the basketball team that won the 3A title and catcher and first baseman on the baseball team that lost in the 3A-4A championship.
Newsome strongly considered attending Auburn University for the opportunity to team up with former high school teammate, quarterback Phil Gargis. However, a recruiting visit from University of Alabama assistant coach John Mitchell, the first African American to play for the Crimson Tide, and the chance to play for head coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, persuaded Newsome to sign with Alabama.
During his collegiate career, Newsome alternated between split end and tight end in the wishbone formation, more often lining up at tight end. By the time he graduated, he was second in career receptions and first in career receiving yards despite playing on a team that relied heavily on the run. Overall, he caught 102 passes for 2,070 yards and 16 touchdowns as Alabama compiled a 42-6 record, won three Southeastern Conference championships, and vied for a pair of national titles. As a senior, Newsome met his future wife and fellow student Gloria, with whom he would have a son and two daughters.
Newsome was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft in 1978 by the Cleveland Browns and spent his entire 13-year career with the team. Although he was drafted as a wide receiver, he was moved to tight end and became the leading tight end in NFL history, with 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. Newsome was the first rookie in 25 years to be named the Browns' Offensive Player of the Year in 1978 and earned all-pro honors in his second season and again in 1984. He also was a Pro Bowl choice following the 1981, 1984, and 1985 seasons. Newsome played in 198 consecutive games. He caught at least one pass in 150 consecutive games, the second longest streak in NFL history at the time. He was ranked as the fourth all-time leading receiver when he retired in 1990. For his off-field community service, Newsome won the NFL Players Association Whizzer White award for community service in 1990.
Newsome was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. He also was selected as the University of Alabama Player of the Decade for the 1970s. In addition, the Ozzie Newsome Most Improved Freshman Award was initiated in 1988 as one of the Crimson Tide's annual spring awards. It is generally presented to the redshirt freshman who has shown the best combination of character and talent.
After his retirement from pro football, Newsome was offered a position as a scout for the Cleveland Browns in 1991. When the organization moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, he was named the director of player personnel, later promoted to general manager, and then executive vice president in the fall of 2002, making him the first African American to hold that position in the NFL. As personnel director, he was the architect of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV championship team in 2000 and was voted the NFL's Executive of the Year after that season.
In 2007, Newsome, along with Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards, and Lovie Smith, received the Fritz Pollard Alliance's (FPA) Johnnie
Cochran Salute to Excellence Award, which honors African Americans in the NFL who make the biggest impact on the field and
in the front office. Newsome also received the FPA's Paul "Tank" Younger Award, acknowledging his dedication and achievement
in building a successful organization. In 2014, Newsome was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame, located in
Indianapolis, Indiana, for his successes as a high school player in football, basketball, and baseball.
Gold, Eli with M. B. Roberts. Bear's Boys. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2007.
Published June 14, 2009
Last updated March 5, 2014