The remarkable series of still lives from Kellen Winslow's performance in a playoff game in Miami last January are now on permanent loan to the mind's gallery. Alan Ameche scores in overtime in Yankee Stadium in 1958 and the Colts beat the Giants. Bart Starr climbs up Jerry Kramer's back and the Packers win on a sub-zero Wisconsin afternoon. Winslow returns from exhaustion and injury time and again and San Diego wins a momentum-shifting marathon in overtime.
No less illustrative, if lower in profile, was a game in Oakland last November in which Winslow caught five touchdown passes. The catches weren't unusual. It was knowing that the defensive backs were expecting the play.
"He's the best there is -- the best I've ever seen," says Mike Ditka, the prototype, the man who defined the position of tight end. "There are Kellen Winslows maybe once every 50 years."
At the age of 25, he has led the National Football League in receptions two years running, and he weighs one-eighth of a ton.
Eric Sievers, who played at Maryland, is now Winslow's backup. "I don't mind playing behind Kellen," Sievers said. "If you're going to learn, you might as well learn from the best."
Winslow is the first 250-pound football player who looks like a hurdler when he's running his routes. His face is far too expressive for the girth of his body, his smile that of a delighted 12-year-old. His hands, which are a shade this side of velvet and Velcro, are enormous. But he is as comfortable in his body as he is within himself. He has grown into fame with grace.
"What you see now is what we've always seen," said Walter Daniel, professor of English at the University of Missouri. "That tremendous verbal ability, that sense of humor, of security and well-being. He's a sociable person and even a person who has nothing to do with athletics can't help but be touched by him."
"We all love him," said Cornelius Perry, his football coach in high school. "The kids, the teachers. Every time he comes back and walks through the halls they get goose bumps. That's before he became famous. That's just the way he is."
"The youngster was never anything but a pleasure," said Tony Steponovich, the man who recruited him into Missouri. "Very quiet, very subdued, incredibly polite. When I used to visit him at the high school, I'd find him playing chess between classes. He was fluid, quick, intelligent, cooperative.
"Now, of course, there's no telling how good he can be. If you could make a blueprint for a tight end, that's it. Kellen Winslow."
Playing "what if" is always a temptation. What if Kellen Winslow hadn't finally heeded Perry's advice and taken up the game in his senior year at East St. Louis High School?
"I'd be a supervisor at UPS," Winslow said. "I was already a supervisor at 16. I would have gone on to community college."
"I was gonna have him one way or the other, even if I had to hit him across the head," Perry said. "He didn't want to play, because he had that job for UPS. I don't think he wanted to be part of the contact. He was big and thin and he hadn't filled out. He could get more out of his job, with the money he was making. He just decided not to play his junior year.
"It was after he filled out -- say, 190 and 6-foot-3 -- when I approached him as a senior. I think it was his choice."
"He just told me he saw no reason that I shouldn't be playing football in some man's college next year," Winslow said.
What if the Missouri coaches hadn't chosen finally to cross the Missouri River and recruit out of predominantly black East St. Louis?
"There were no racial prejudices," said Steponovich, then offensive line coach, who found him on the Illinois side of the river. "There was an idea that was the case, but it was not. There was an aversion.
"But Kellen was the turnabout. After that, we got someone from there every year." After a year of Missouri, Winslow's performance was nothing to cite in the weekly roundup. He caught 42 passes in his first three years.
"We were bringing him along slowly," said Steponovich. "People couldn't understand why but he was adjusting. He learned to cope tremendously quickly."
And he made his presence felt quickly.
"What was important is the influence he had on so many of the other students, not just football players," Daniel said. "He was able to have a kind of peer relationship with everyone. He majored in counseling, and he used that to help other athletes who were floundering.
"He would recruit kids for my class. He'd come in and say, 'Here's someone for you, professor. If they don't do well, I want to know.' "
A magazine has arrived that morning, and now it lies a few feet away. On the cover, it asks if Kellen Winslow is too good to believe.
"Someone's always got to label you something," he said, still smiling. "I guess since I've led the league two years in a row that's what they're going to label me."
(Last year, Winslow had 88 receptions for 1,075 yards; the year before, he had 89 for 1,290.)
"But there's always someone gonna humble you. Read through that magazine. They've got a section on athletes by position. The tight end is not even in there.
"Basically, the things that are written about me, they just go over your head. I read them mostly for the accuracy of the quotes. I like the publicity because it helps the team. I want to get to the point where Los Angeles is known as the city north of San Diego. It may also get me some lucrative endorsements."
It is suggested that the Miami game might have focused the football world's attention, if not drastically altering the average fan's perception of Southern California geography. Nor did that evening's performance prove a commercial windfall. In the weekly game program here, he endorses a local chiropractor.
So perhaps it was not the finest performance by a modern receiver. But that's the way the mind's eye works. He did catch 13 passes. He blocked a field goal in overtime. Severely frayed, ragged at the edges, he left the field a number of times. Maybe it was that human touch of physical exhaustion--how many professional athletes cross that line?
"Sometimes you get the feeling you're just not going to let something happen. And every now and then you have visions about special days.
"We knew it the night before. You're in Miami. Dolphin country. Shula country. The whole scenario. Plus the fact that we went up, 24-0, and then they tied it up. I saw people all over the country in front of their televisions saying, 'See, I told you so, they're just a flashy passing team.' I know I didn't want to be part of that."
So he kept throwing off the oxygen mask -- camera, action -- and trotting back onto the field until San Diego had won, 41-38.
"I have a very insecure feeling. I felt that we could not move the ball unless I was on the field. Even as a decoy. Which I was, a lot of the time. People started going with me no matter where I went. I was too tired to do anything if I got the ball, but they didn't know that. I remember one play I was in motion, I thought I was in motion, I thought I was running normal. When I saw the films, I was almost to a walk."
People are still following Kellen Winslow. The magazine biographers have attended his footsteps since early May. It's known as four-color fame, and it's fleeting.
"The numbers," he said, "are made to be broken. One day someone will catch more passes. Then I'll slide into the top 10. Then one day you drop out of the top 10, and no one remembers who you are."
He doesn't want to slink out of the game years after his rightful cue for an exit.
"He once said to me," Daniel said. " 'You know I don't want to be 30 and all crippled up. If I get drafted and contracted to play football, that's fine. If not, I won't agonize over it.'
"It's that balanced attitude, that truth, that transcends everything else. And it transfers to everyone else around him. I've been in the business for a long time, and I've dealt with a lot of people. But Kellen Winslow is rare."
When Kellen Winslow loses a step, "I think I may switch to tackle. How far is 270 from 250? I could adds years to my career."
But watch for the tackle eligible.