Kellen Winslow #80
In 1979 the San Diego Chargers had the #13 pick in the NFL draft. The team was searching for a new weapon for its All-Pro quarterback Dan Fouts. The gunslinger from the University of Oregon had a great propensity to throw the ball down field. The Chargers front office looked to open the offense up with a new formula and Kellen Winslow was drafted to accommodate the new style of Chargers offense.
Winslow was an All-American out of the University of Missouri. He was regarded as the best tight end in the draft and filled a great need for the Chargers. Incredibly Winslow did not start playing football until he was a senior in high school. He had a great amount of talent for someone who was essentially learning the game. Winslow played in seven games in his first season only starting one game. He caught 25 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. A broken right leg ended his rookie campaign early in 1979.
In his second year Winslow exploded onto the national stage. Catching 89 balls for a new tight end record of 1,290 yards. He also scored nine touch downs for the Chargers. That 1980 season was Winslow’s finest in terms of total yards gained from scrimmage. The NFL took immediate notice and Winslow was regarded as a freak on offense. A man of that size with the speed of a wide receiver made opposing defenses cower. He was a defensive coordinators worst nightmare. You could not have big safeties cover him, because he would just run away from them and corner backs could keep up but were no match when it came to strength.
Winslow followed up his 1980 season by catching 88 balls for 1,075 yards and 10 touch downs during the 1981 season. This season would be remembered for “The Epic In Miami” that took place on January 2nd 1982. Winslow caught 13 passes in the play-off game for 166 yards and one touch down. He also blocked a field goal attempt with seconds left in the game that would have given the Miami Dolphins the victory. During that game Winslow suffered from a pinched nerve in his shoulder, dehydration, severe cramps and he had three stitches in his lower lip. The game ended up with a dramatic Chargers overtime victory and Winslow was helped off the field in one of the most iconic Chargers photos in the history of the team.
The team lost the next week in the “Ice Bowl” in Cincinnati, but Winslow was asserting himself as one of the best players in the league. During that 1981 season Winslow caught five touch downs in a game against the Oakland Raiders on November 22nd. That is still tied for the most touch downs in a game caught by a single player.
Winslow went on to have two more excellent years in 1982 and 1983. The strike shortened season of 1982 did not slow down Winslow as he still caught 54 balls for 721 yards and 6 TD’s. The Chargers lost to the Dolphins in the playoffs that season. In 1983 Winslow again had excellent numbers catching 88 balls for 1,172 yards and eight touch downs. Winslow was a three-time first team All-Pros under his belt and had recorded the most yards, catches and touchdowns by a tight end that early in their career.
His future seemed limitless and Winslow again started out the 1984 season by dominating teams. In the first seven games of the season Winslow had totaled 663 yards on 55 receptions. In November of that year in a game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Winslow tore up his knee so bad that doctors immediately said he would not play again. The injury in the fourth quarter of the game was so bad that his ligaments were shredded in his knee. Winslow would surely be out for the rest of the year and his future seemed very cloudy.
At the age of 27, Winslow was attempting to come back and once again play at a high level. Not an easy task from a major knee injury like Winslow had. He, to his credit returned the next year but his knee was obviously hurting him. Only playing in 10 games and starting six, Winslow recorded 318 yards on 25 receptions.
In 1986 Winslow returned full-time playing in all 16 games for the Chargers. He was unable to return to form though and only managed 64 catches for 728 yards and five touch downs. Very respectable numbers for a tight end, but nowhere near what Chargers fans had grown to expect. Winslow played one more injury plagued season in 1987, and then retired at the end of the year. He was 30 years old and the injuries were just too much for him to continue.
Winslow goes down in Chargers history as a five time Pro-Bowl participant and was the 1981 Co-MVP of the Pro-Bowl. He is a Chargers Hall Of Fame member and was elected to the National Football League Hall-Of-Fame in 1995. In his nine-year career Winslow caught 541 balls for 6,741 yards and totaled 45 touchdowns. The man would have had incredible numbers had he been able to stay healthy. One can only imagine what he would have accomplished had he remained in excellent health.
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