Tight End is what the NFL ought to call Kellen Winslow. He is unique to his sport, so much more than a tight end, as large as some tackles and as agile as many wide receivers, what an omnipotent football being would create if he wanted to give one team, say, the Chargers, an unfair advantage on offense.
Although at 6-foot-5 1/2 and 250 pounds, Winslow is not the largest player on the team, Charger coaches refer to him as The Big Guy, in the manner of trainers who will say of a Secretariat or something superior in their stables: "Come see The Big Horse."
Since Winslow can do nearly everything on a football field, including pass, the Chargers often ask that of him.
"Know what wouldn't surprise me?" said Redskin assistant Wayne Sevier, a Charger aide during Winslow's first two years with the team. "If they were in a prevent defense sometime and used Kellen as the deep safety. I'm not saying it'll happen, but you could hear them (Charger coaches) thinking: 'Why don't we use The Big Guy back there?'
"And I guarantee he'd make whatever play had to be made."
As a rookie from Missouri, Winslow arrived in San Diego a pro. He knew all the moves, how to nurse a hamstring pull long enough to avoid heavy contact during training camp.
"Nobody plays harder when it counts," Sevier said. "I remember the first play of his first (regular-season) game, against Seattle. We called a tight-end screen. It didn't get a touchdown, maybe 18 yards or so. But how he got those 18 yards! He ran over five or six guys. Anyone who hit him was getting hurt, and we just said: 'Oh, my, have we got something here?' "
Owner Gene Klein did not quite slicker the Cleveland Browns to get Winslow, although it sometimes seems that way. Ironically, the 1979 predraft scenario had him going to the Bengals, San Diego's opponent here Sunday for the AFC championship. But when Cincinnati chose quarterback Jack Thompson and running back Charles Alexander with the first-round picks they had ahead of them, the Chargers raced passionately to make a trade.
Alexander was the 12th player chosen; Cleveland had the 13th pick. Let Sevier recall the emotion among Charger management during the 15-minute period the Browns had to either use that choice or trade it:
"We had Kellen rated the third best player in the whole draft, and he (Klein) was close with (Tommy) Prothro (the Browns' general manager). It went down to the last seconds. The Browns wanted two defensive players, and figured one of them would still be there if they swapped picks with us and drafted 20th. And we also gave 'em our second-round pick.
"When we got Kellen, Klein shouted: 'That's it.' And when the (first) day was over, he took everybody--coaches, management, all of us--out to dinner to celebrate getting Kellen."
Under the public surface, Winslow has been antimanagement of late, for reasons that include money fights and subsequent trades of two Charger cornerstones, John Jefferson and Fred Dean. In addition to tight end, wide out, special teams and passer (twice), Winslow also has played prima donna and berated the San Diego press for daring to suggest the Charger defense might be less than awsome.
As Sevier emphasizes, nobody takes his job more seriously when it matters than Winslow. Most of football realized that last week against the Dolphins, when Winslow played as memorably as anyone in NFL history. Suffering from cramps in the final 15 minutes or so of overtime, forced to the sideline for massages three times, Winslow still set a record with 13 catches for 166 yards and blocked a field goal in the final seconds of regulation.
The Dolphins tried a defense that had a linebacker mauling Winslow near the line and a safety picking him up deeper into the pattern. So Winslow sometimes dropped off the line, grabbed short passes and overpowered the Dolphins the way a whale would small fish.
So exhausted he had to be half-carried by two teammates off the field, so cramped he spent 45 minutes on a training table, Winslow later said another work day had been as bad. On a summer job between his sophomore and junior years in East Alton, Ill., he once did a double shift, lifting and moving 100-pound bullet pans 16 straight hours.
"Winslow has a bad shoulder," Coach Don Coryell said. "No question."
And no question that Winslow will play Sunday.
"Anyone who showed as much courage as he did last week," Coryell added, "won't let a sub-zero chill factor affect him."
Winslow's position only recently, in the last generation, has been in fashion. Until the Packers' Ron Kramer gave a hint of the possibilities, the tight end had been little more than an extra, immobile tackle. Mike Ditka showed what a huge man with hands and some speed could mean to an offense.
Winslow has taken the game to another plateau.
"What's next?" Sevier said. "A Kellen as a wide out. A guy 6-5 and 250 out on the flank."
And the Winslow of the 21st century, the next Might End?
"He'll be 6-9 and 280," Sevier said. He laughed at what seemed such an absurdity. It wasn't. Not at all. The next prototype at the second most pivotal position on a football team? They're already alive, not even The Big Guys in their sport. They're called power forwards.