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Rams' Newsome Finds Different Kind of Pain : His Father's Shocking Death Makes Hits in Football Seem Like Love Taps

December 04, 1987|CHRIS DUFRESNE | Times Staff Writer

Safety Vince Newsome, the Rams' biggest hitter on defense, knows now how it feels to be on the receiving end of pain.

He was stung so hard and so deep last August that he hasn't yet begun to recover.

"I've been numb the whole year," he said Thursday.

You wouldn't know it by the numbers. Newsome is the team's second-leading tackler with 45, trailing only the 75 recorded by linebacker Jim Collins, who played in all three strike games.

It's nothing new to Newsome.

He led the Rams last season with 113 tackles. Everyone concerned agrees that Newsome is on the verge of stardom. He plays the way Jack Tatum did, only with a conscience.

Newsome doesn't wear a terrible towel or skull and crossbones. Yet, when you've been hit by him, you tend to drag body parts back to the huddle.

"I never thought I had to live the image," Newsome said. "I don't even like the image. It's stereotypical. I don't conform to that stereotype. If you saw me and talked to me, you'd think I was a wide receiver."

Newsome, only 26, had looked forward to what should have been his best season. Last August, he had it all. And then, suddenly, he had lost so much of it.

Newsome's father, Thomas, only recently retired, was putting the finishing touches on a new deck at the family home in Vacaville.

"It was all done," Newsome said. "He was just going to put the steps in."

Thomas Newsome, 58, was cutting the last few pieces of wood when a fragment broke free of the electric saw and struck him in the head.

He died soon afterward.

Vince Newsome missed two exhibition games to be with his family but returned in time for the final one against Washington, then started in the opener a week later in Houston.

Returned, though, isn't quite the appropriate word.

"Football wasn't in my head," Newsome said. "I was playing, but I wasn't there. I can honestly say that football has not been 100% in my head all year. It's not to the point where I've hurt the team. But it's a numb feeling. I don't know how to react."

Newsome's first instincts were to immerse himself in football. The more he worked, the less time he had to think. He figured he could put his emotions on hold until the end of the season.

Then came the National Football League players' strike, the worst of all scenarios for Newsome, who was suddenly left with nothing but idle hours.

After visiting his mother in Vacaville, Newsome returned home to Seattle, where he played his college football at Washington. Once there, he went inside his home, disconnected his phone and stayed for seven days, speaking with no one.

It was there he met with his enemy, time.

"A lot of other things kind of happened at the same time," he said. "My father passed, and then I had this little cat I was in love with. The cat a week later gets hit by a car. Then I had these birds I've had since I was a junior in college. The birds flew out of the cage. So I had lost all these things . . . my dad, my cat, my birds. In the strike, I lose $60,000. So you're just like saying, 'Damn!' "

Life, Newsome and football went on, but the combination was not quite the same.

"I came back here with the thought that all this stuff here is bull," he said. "When you lose somebody like I lost my father, a lot of things, they don't matter as much. You put it in different perspective, in a different light. It's not as though I love the game any less or don't try as hard, but it's just that, essentially, it's all bull.

"The shame is you don't appreciate things enough. I thought I appreciated my dad. When you leave the house for college and then start coming back home, you start saying, 'Hey dad, you were right. You said this and that.' Then when you lose your dad, well, I never anticipated losing him. He was healthy. There were so many things I wanted to do and I never got to do."

It was no secret who Thomas Newsome's favorite player was. He knew the game and he knew his son. He knew when Vince was playing well and when he wasn't.

"He was good at telling me when I wasn't doing something right," Vince said. "And just by watching on TV he could tell if my leg was hurting or how I was tackling. He was my biggest fan. He'd wear one of those hats with the (Ram) horns, and blue and gold sweats. He wanted to come to every game this year."

And in some ways, he has always been there.

"What's funny about when you lose someone is that you go to the wake, or the funeral, and everyone talks about what they used to say, like, 'Remember how dad said this and that?' stuff that should be said while they're still alive," Newsome said.

"Well, my dad said a few things to me prior to the time he died that kind of almost paved the way from then on. I thought about them before he died, then after, I said, 'Wow, I'm going to apply these things.' "

Newsome remembers complaining to his father about what the Rams were offering when they were negotiating a new contract last summer.

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