Winslow, Kellen Boswell

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WINSLOW, Kellen Boswell

(b. 5 November 1957 in St. Louis, Missouri), football player who, because of his unique combination of size, speed, and agility, redefined the role of the tight end in professional football.

Winslow grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, one of seven children. His father was a bus driver, and his mother worked as a clerical assistant in a number of offices. What the Winslows lacked in finances, they made up for with a loving, tightly bonded family. From an early age, Winslow planned to attend college on a scholarship, but he intended it to be an academic one rather than athletic. Winslow participated in few organized sports as a young man, preferring to spend his time playing chess. But his six-foot, four-inch, 184-pound body attracted notice from coaches at East St. Louis High School. Although the coaches tried to convince him to play football beginning in his freshman year, only in his senior year did they persuade him to play. Winslow immediately became the starting tight end.

Winslow graduated from high school in 1975, and college recruiters from throughout the Midwest came calling. He received offers from Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Northwestern University before he made the decision to attend Missouri. He played for the Missouri Tigers from 1975 to 1979, catching 71 passes for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns. Winslow was both Big Eight Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 1978 (his senior year), and he played in the Liberty Bowl, the East-West Shrine Game, and the Senior Bowl. Winslow finally received a Bachelor of Educational Science degree in Counseling Psychology from Missouri in 1987, going back after he retired from professional football.

When the San Diego Chargers selected Winslow with the thirteenth pick of the 1979 National Football League (NFL) draft, he was six feet, five inches tall, and weighed 250 pounds. He blended this size with incredible agility and a sprinter's speed. Additionally, he was very intelligent and quickly adjusted to the Chargers offensive system. Winslow began his rookie year with success, but suffered a broken bone in his right leg during the seventh game, an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Winslow recovered fully from his rookie-season injury and quickly became an integral piece of one of the greatest offensive strategies in professional football history, "Air Coryell." Coach Don Coryell took advantage of Winslow's raw talent and began to use his tight end more as an additional receiver than in the traditional role of a blocking tight end. Coryell had Winslow line up at the normal tight end position, but also out wide in the slot and occasionally in the backfield. The results were both immediate and long lasting. Winslow became, arguably, the greatest tight end in the history of the game.

Winslow returned to his second year of professional football with a vengeance, leading the NFL with 89 receptions for 1,290 yards and 9 touchdowns. He was equally dominating the following year and again led the league, this time with 88 receptions for 1,075 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, his phenomenal performances during those seasons paled in comparison to his 1981 postseason heroics.

The Chargers played the Dolphins in Miami in the 1981 American Football Conference (AFC) divisional playoff game, and Winslow was easily the most impressive player that day. Though heavily bruised and suffering from Miami's grueling heat and humidity, he still managed to haul in a playoff record of 13 receptions for 166 yards. With 4 seconds left in the game, Winslow leaped to block a potentially game-winning field goal by Miami's Uwe von Schamann to send the game into overtime. The Chargers finally won the game 41–38 on a Rolf Benirschke field goal, 13 minutes, 52 seconds into overtime. The exhausted Winslow had to be carried off the field by teammates Eric Sievers and Billy Shields.

The San Diego–Miami game is noted as one of the greatest games in football history. In the article, "Our Favorite Games," in the 25 October 1999 issue, Sports Illustrated called it their favorite game of the twentieth century, in all sports. Winslow's contribution has also been widely recognized as one of the top performances by a player in a single game. Unfortunately for the Chargers, their luck ran out in Miami, and they lost the following week to the Bengals in a game played in Cincinnati in temperatures well below freezing.

Winslow continued to play for the Chargers through the 1987 season. He reported to camp for the 1988 season, but a previously reconstructed knee caused him considerable difficulty, and he failed the team physical. Although he was later declared fit to play, Winslow realized that his playing days were over. A disagreement with team officials over the condition of the knee resulted in his suspension from the team, and he immediately retired.

Following his retirement from professional football, Winslow entered the University of San Diego School of Law and graduated in 1993 with a J.D. He left San Diego after graduation and practiced law for a firm in Kansas City, Missouri, specializing in representing athletes. Winslow returned to San Diego in 1996, performing commentary for Fox Sports and ESPN and giving motivational speeches throughout the United States. Winslow also established the Kellen Winslow Foundation, which is dedicated to funding community-based programs whose aim is to challenge, educate, and develop the talents of children living in underprivileged areas. He is the father of two sons, one of whom, Kellen II (Kellen Boswell Winslow, Jr.), started his college football career in 2001 as a wide receiver for the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Winslow is considered by many sports authorities to be the greatest tight end in the history of professional football. He retired with 541 receptions for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. He twice led the NFL in receiving and led the Chargers receivers five times in nine seasons. In 1994, in conjunction with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Football League, Winslow was selected as one of two tight ends on the NFL All-Time team. In 1995 he was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, the Breitbard Hall of Fame at the San Diego Hall of Champions, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The NFL-produced book 75 Seasons, 1920–1995 (1994), contains an entry focusing on Winslow and his contribution to football. It also outlines the NFL's All-Time team, of which Winslow is a member. For statistics and career achievements, the best resource is the 1988 San Diego Chargers Media Guide. Sports Illustrated dedicated multiple sections of the 25 October 1999 issue to the Chargers and Dolphins playoff game of 1982, and Winslow is featured throughout the issue.

Todd Tobias

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