All week, Rock M Nation will be celebrating the induction of its inaugural class to the Rock M Nation Wall of Excellence. Today, we welcome the winner of our Tier III category, honoring contributions from players from 1993-1974.
Perhaps best known for one of the gutsiest performances in NFL history and for proving the apple can fall far from the tree, Winslow used Mizzou as a springboard to revolutionizing the position of tight end.
For a kid from East St. Louis who decided to take up football in his senior year of high school, it's safe to say Winslow did just fine, no? Al Onofrio's original draw to Winslow was his trademark athleticism, but later professed Winslow "had a great attitude, which is why he became great." With the onset of the Warren Powers era at Mizzou, Winslow began to show his ability to stretch the field, a trait virtually unheard of from tight ends before the emergence of Winslow at Mizzou and Ozzie Newsome at Alabama in the late '70s.
In three seasons at Mizzou, Winslow compiled 71 receptions, 1,089 yards and 10 TDs. Winslow had only 16 catches in his sophomore season, but aided Missouri to upsets to Nebraska and Notre Dame, both of which entered as top five teams. Over the next two seasons, Winslow would add back-to-back all-conference honors, as well as being named a consensus All-American following his senior season.
Yet, perhaps Winslow's greatest contribution to Mizzou was not what he did while in black and gold, but rather what he did after. Winslow's ascendance to greatness coincided with the rise of the NFL's popularity in the American public eye, allowing Winslow's Charger success to shed a small light back on Mizzou.
As we prepare for the NFL career of a guy like Jeremy Maclin, we hope for him the opportunity to establish greatness at the next level in a way that's eluded this Missouri program for the last 20-25 years. As we send him off, it's fitting that we first pay tribute to Winslow, the man who set the bar for carrying the Mizzou banner in the pros.
Yesterday I mentioned that Paul Christman was born before his time. I'd say the same for Kellen Winslow, but #83 made the late-'70s his time, even if the thought of an athletic tight end with both size and speed was a foreign concept. He was T Rucker before T Rucker was T Rucker. He was 6'5, 250, with muscle and moves. He was a two-time all-conference tight end and a 1978 All-American. While it is correct to say his most notable days came while he was representing Mizzou in Charger Blue, you do wonder what Winslow could have done in today's spread offense--he probably would have duplicated his career numbers of 1,089 yards and 10 TDs in one season.
While teams may not have thrown the ball much (especially to tight ends) in the late-'70s, Winslow managed some of his biggest games in the biggest moments. In his All-American season of 1978, he put up 132 yards against Nebraska, including a momentum-turning first-half touchdown (catching an impossibly low pass from Phil Bradley while keeping his feet in the endzone) and an absolutely huge 33-yard catch on the game-winning Q4 drive. The year before in an upset attempt against Oklahoma, he had 7 catches for 88 yards (including a late TD to get Mizzou within four points) in guiding freshman Phil Bradley's passing attack. You never knew when Mizzou was going to need a big play through the air, but you knew they'd be looking at Winslow to do it.
It's easy to see how much RMN loves its tight ends--Martin "MotherRucker" Rucker and Chase "Thrust Nunchuk Upward" Coffman have both worked their ways into RMN lore (have we been around long enough to have "lore"?), and it would be very short-sighted not to recognize Mizzou's first big-time tight end--Kellen Winslow was a big, mean blocker, statistically dominant (for his day), and smooth and athletic in the open field, and his unique skill set would have made him a weapon no matter which era he played.