Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow is fond of comparing the sport of football to the game of chess – complex contests decided by individual pieces negotiating the playing space. But when it comes to his own success at the position he revolutionized in the ’70s and ’80s, his evaluation is simple.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” says Winslow, BES ’87. “The moment I learned I could catch the ball and run with it, not just catch it and fall down, I was like, ‘Oh wow, you can do this?’ It changed my style of play.”
Winslow was honored as the University of Missouri’s representative at the SEC Football Legends ceremony Friday on the eve of Mizzou’s second consecutive trip to the conference championship game in Atlanta. The St. Louis native will be acknowledged on the field when the Tigers take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, at the Georgia Dome, televised on CBS.
Winslow, one of two Missouri alumni in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (along with Roger Wehrli, BS Ed ’70), played nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, the team that traded up to select the All-American with the 13th overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft. After his playing days, Winslow earned a law degree at the University of San Diego. He is now the director of athletics at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.
Fans who remember Winslow’s career recall the image of his Chargers teammates helping the exhausted tight end off the field after his legendary performance against the Miami Dolphins in 1982. His balletic receptions, charismatic personality and keen intellect helped Mizzou during his senior season in 1978, which culminated in a 20-15 Liberty Bowl win against Louisiana State.
“My [Chargers] teammates told me that if I was in shape, I would have been able to walk off the field by myself,” says Winslow of the iconic “Epic in Miami” image captured after San Diego defeated the Dolphins 41-38 in overtime. “Not ‘How you doing, man? Great game!’ You got to love ’em.”
Winslow praised MU English Professor Walter Daniel, a mentor who suggested Winslow pursue a career in law. During his campus days, when he wasn’t practicing, Winslow played pinball and bowled in Brady Commons, socialized in Memorial Union and leaned against the cool stone Columns to escape the Mid-Missouri heat.
“The University of Missouri changed my life,” says Winslow, who returned to MU to finish his bachelor’s degree after he retired. “The opportunity it provided changed not just my life but the lives of my parents, my siblings, my children and my grandchildren, and I’m thankful for it."