State Your Case: Nate Newton
Is there room in Canton for a Kitchen?
Could the Pro Football Hall of Fame use a good Kitchen?
How about a great Kitchen?
Because great is what guard Nate Newton was during a stretch in the 1990s when the Dallas Cowboys were winning three Super Bowls and Emmitt Smith was capturing four NFL rushing titles. Nicknamed “The Kitchen” because he was bigger than William “Refrigerator” Perry, Newton went to six Pro Bowls in the 1990s, including five in a row from 1992-96. He also was voted first-team all-pro in 1994-95.
Hall-of-Famer Larry Little went to five Pro Bowls at guard off Miami teams that went to three consecutive Super Bowls from 1971-73 and won back-to-back Lombardi Trophies in 1972-73. Shouldn’t a six-time Pro Bowler off a team that won three Super Bowls merit a discussion?
But Newton has never had that discussion. He’s never been a finalist for his potential Hall-of-Fame candidacy to be discussed. Newton has been eligible for 18 years now with hopes that voters might remember that the NFL’s Team of the Decade for the 1990s had a Kitchen that served up pancakes every Sunday.
The NFL didn’t consider Newton much more than a pantry coming out of college in 1983. He earned All-Mideastern Athletic Conference acclaim at Florida A&M as a senior but became an NFL after-thought. There were 335 draft picks that year, including 62 offensive linemen. Nate Newton was not one of them.
Newton signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins in 1983. But he didn’t make much of an impression on a franchise enamored with its Hogs and became a training-camp cut. So Newton decided to cast his lot with the fledgling USFL in 1984, joining the Tampa Bay Bandits. He started for two seasons there at offensive tackle, honing his skills as a pass blocker in coach Steve Spurrier’s “Fun ‘N Gun” offense.
When the USFL folded after the 1985 season, Newton signed on with the Cowboys. He spent his first season in 1986 as a backup, then moved into the starting lineup in 1987 at right guard. He started for Tom Landry for two years and remained there in 1989 in Jimmy Johnson’s first season as coach.
The Cowboys moved Newton to right tackle in 1990 and he spent two years there as Dallas was emerging as a playoff contender, winning seven games in 1990 and 11 more in 1991 to qualify for the post-season for the first time in six years. Smith also won his first NFL rushing crown that season with 1,563 yards.
The emergence at tackle of another HBCU product, Erik Williams, allowed the Cowboys to switch Newton to left guard in 1992 where his bulk could be of better use. And the real winning started. Dallas won Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1995 – and Smith won rushing crowns all three of those seasons.
That blocking front, dubbed by NFL Films “The Great Wall of Dallas,” became one of the best in league history with Pro Bowlers across the board. Guard Larry Allen and center Mark Stepnoski were both voted to the 1990s NFL all-decade team. Allen has since been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Newton went to six Pro Bowls, Williams four and left tackle Mark Tuinei two.
Their blocking enabled Smith to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and pave a path to Canton for Dallas skill players Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. In all, the Great Wall of Dallas earned 22 Pro Bowl selections in the 1990 decade. But is only one player in Canton enough from such a formidable and productive blocking front?
The Cleveland Browns have two blockers from Jim Brown’s offensive line in Canton and the Green Bay Packers have three from the Lombardi era. Little is one of two Miami offensive lineman from the 1970s enshrined. The Houston Oilers never went to a Super Bowl but both of their guards from the 1980s, Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak, now have busts.
Which brings us back to Newton. He has one foot in the door already with his induction this summer into the Black College Hall of Fame, which is housed in Canton. Maybe the Pro Football Hall of Fame should now study expansion with the addition of a Kitchen.