by James Matthey
SAM Newman was so desperate he was stealing food from Channel Seven. Chocolate, cheese, orange juice - whatever he could get his hands on.
He'd been working for a transport company in the 1980s when a business partner asked him to guarantee a bank loan. The company went bust, Newman lost $400,000 and his house - and he was forced to start sleeping in the back of friend's shop.
As he tells Mark Howard in the latest episode of his podcast series The Howie Games, he was "stone, motherless broke".
"I'd played football and had a pretty good business and had a pretty good life then all of a sudden I had absolutely nothing," Newman says.
But a Playboy magazine changed everything. The former footy star - who retired in 1980 after playing 300 games for Geelong - was reading the magazine when he stumbled across an interview with pop star Cher.
He was "fascinated" by the style and tone of the question-and-answer piece and decided to have a crack at doing the same thing.
Newman asked friend and Hawthorn great Dermott Brereton if he'd be his first subject. "Dermie" agreed and Newman took the finished product to the Herald Sun, asking if it would run pieces like that in the paper.
Two hundred and fifty interviews later Newman had spoken to everyone from athletes to politicians to artists. Tennis legend John McEnroe and golfer Greg Norman provided a couple of his more memorable encounters, as did a strange chat with painter Brett Whiteley about why the painter refused to be interviewed.
"I got up there and Brett … was wound up like a plastic watch," Newman says.
"I said, 'I've come to interview you' and he said, 'I'm not interviewing anyone' and I spent three quarters of an hour talking to him about why he wouldn't be interviewed."
From there Newman found a job at Channel Nine and became a regular on The Footy Show, where he's turned himself into one of Australia's most prominent media personalities.
A man with muscles, good looks and charisma, Newman was one of the most popular players of his era. He was talented, too. Really talented. He captained the Cats and won several best and fairest awards.
He's proven to be just as successful as a media performer. It's why even at 71 Newman is still one of Nine's highest paid talents and has a waterfront property and a boat as well as a handful of luxury cars.
But the fame that comes with being on The Footy Show for 25 years hasn't always been a spotlight that's shone favourably on Newman. He's not politically correct, doesn't always think before he speaks and is often criticised for it. But he doesn't care.
"I don't care about what other people think, I honestly don't care. Knockers have a vested interest in doing that," Newman tells Howard.
"I really don't care about what people say as long as they don't care what I say about them."
Newman has given people plenty of reasons to hate on him. He's gone on air in blackface, put a photo of journalist Caroline Wilson on a mannequin and dressed her in different outfits, pretended to smoke a bong and this year was slammed for a "disgraceful" gag at the expense of the transgender community.
But through it all he's had a home at Channel Nine and The Footy Show. His chat with Howard was recorded before it was announced Eddie McGuire was replacing Craig Hutchison as host of the program, but the praise he gave his long-time friend bodes well for the future of the show.
"He is a world class performer, anchorman and host," Newman says. "People don't realise how good that man is.
"He is world class. There would be few people in this world who'd be better at what he does in the whole spectrum of the media and the entertainment industry."
McGuire has encouraged Newman to continue being his outspoken self as The Footy Show enjoys a second coming. But perhaps not as outspoken as he has been on other occasions.
Newman was complaining about a poor game of football while commentating on Triple M a few years back when a fan phoned in to disagree with him. The Geelong icon's reply? "You are a f***wit."
Retiring Collingwood CEO Gary Pert was in charge of Triple M at the time and honoured Newman's contract but didn't extend it and he parted ways with the network.
It was a small hiccup Newman has well and truly overcome.
The Howie Games with Mark Howard is available via the PodcastOne app - which can be downloaded in your app store - or via www.podcastone.com.au/The-Howie-Games